MONDAY, March 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Only about 20 percent of people who experience "senior moments" of forgetfulness, memory lapses and poor judgment will go on to development serious brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, according to a new German study.
Although some people will be stricken with Alzheimer's or dementia, many will see their symptoms remain the same or disappear, the researchers said. It's all part of a condition called "mild cognitive impairment," they added.
"Patients should not be alarmed unnecessarily by receiving a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment," said lead researcher Dr. Hanna Kaduszkiewicz, of the Institute of Primary Medical Care in Kiel, Germany.
During three years of study of people with mild cognitive impairment, 42 percent returned to normal mental function, 36 percent retained their mild impairment and only 22 percent developed dementia, Kaduszkiewicz said.
The study found that 21 percent of participants fluctuated between mild cognitive impairment and normal mental functioning, while 15 percent continued to have mild cognitive impairment that got no worse.
"As long as there are no treatment opportunities to prevent progression to dementia, elderly persons should not be screened for mild cognitive impairment," Kaduszkiewicz said. "Diagnostics should start when patients experience symptoms and problems in their daily life they worry about."
Two U.S. experts agreed that a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment is not something to be overly concerned about.
"It is not a real disease. It's a condition that may change," said Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Dr. Irving Gomolin, chief of the division of geriatric medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., said the findings "suggest that when the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment is made among general medical patients, these patients can be told to remain relatively optimistic that their symptoms may improve with time, and/or remain stable."
For the study, published in the March/April issue of the journal Annals of Family Medicine, Kaduszkiewicz's team collected data on more than 350 people aged 75 and older who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment but didn't have dementia.
Participants performed tasks including learning new material (such as memorizing lists of words), delayed recall and memory. They also were rated on a depression scale tailored to older people.
The study participants most likely to develop dementia were people who also had signs of depression, those who had more severe cognitive impairment and those who were older, the researchers found.
For more about mild cognitive impairment, visit the Alzheimer's Association.
SOURCES: Hanna Kaduszkiewicz, M.D., Institute of Primary Medical Care, Kiel, Germany; Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., director, Center for Cognitive Health, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City; Irving Gomolin, M.D., chief, division of geriatric medicine, Winthrop-University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; Annals of Family Medicine, March/April 2014