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Awareness of memory loss may decline before a diagnosis of dementia, study suggests

Published 26 August 2015

People who go on to develop dementia may begin to lose awareness of their memory problems two to three years before the diagnosis of the condition, suggests a new study published today.

Published on Wednesday 26 August in the online issue of Neurology, the analysis included 2,092 participants from three ongoing studies that followed older adults for more than 10 years. At the beginning of the study, the participants were an average of 76 years old and showed no signs of memory or cognitive impairments. They were given yearly tests of memory and thinking abilities. Participants were also asked how often they had trouble remembering things, and how they would rate their memory compared to 10 years earlier.

For the 239 people diagnosed with dementia during the study, memory awareness was stable and then began to drop sharply an average of 2.6 years before the diagnosis of dementia. This followed several years of memory decline.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer's Society said: 

'Memory loss can be an important first sign of dementia, however this study shows that people are not always aware of changes to their memory in the early stages of the condition. Often, friends and family are the first to recognise the warning signs. People who are concerned about the memory of someone close to them should encourage that person to visit their GP. A diagnosis can help people with dementia plan for the future and get access to vital care and support.

'We need more research to improve our understanding of how memory is affected as people get older and how this differs in people with dementia. This will allow us to develop better ways to diagnose and support people with the condition as early as possible.'

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Notes to editors:

  • 225,000 will develop dementia this year, that's one every three minutes
  • Alzheimer's Society research shows that 850,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia. In less than ten years a million people will be living with dementia. This will soar to two million people by 2051
  • Dementia costs the UK economy over £26 Billion per year. This is the equivalent of more than £30,000 per person with dementia.
  • Alzheimer's Society champions the rights of people living with dementia and the millions of people who care for them
  • Alzheimer's Society works in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Alzheimer's Society supports people to live well with dementia today and funds research to find a cure for tomorrow. We rely on voluntary donations to continue our vital work. You can donate now by calling 0845 306 0898 or visiting alzheimers.org.uk
  • Alzheimer's Society provides a National Dementia Helpline, the number is 0300 222 11 22 or visit alzheimers.org.uk