Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Early diagnosis and intervention for dementia

An innovative investigation of prospective memory in older adults at risk of Alzheimer's disease can be useful for early diagnosis and intervention.
Early diagnosis and intervention for dementia
Europe's population is ageing at a rapid rate. Therefore, there is a pressing need to help this population live an independent life and preserve their well-being as they age. A vitally important skill to preserve is prospective memory. This refers to remembering to do things in the future, such as to take medication or pay bills on time. Even though this skill is vitally important for independent functioning in everyday life, it has received much less attention than retrospective memory for past events (e.g., remembering someone’s name or what one did yesterday).

An EU-funded project, PMINMCI (Prospective Memory in Mild Cognitive Impairment), conducted the first systematic investigation of prospective memory in older adults at a higher risk of dementia. It focused on identifying individuals in the transitional state between normal ageing and Alzheimer's, recognising the memory problems they face in everyday life and offering early psychological intervention to reduce anxiety about memory.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) signifies a borderline state between normal ageing and dementia. People with amnestic MCI are at a much higher risk of progression to dementia of the Alzheimer’s type than that expected in age-matched normal ageing individuals.

In a first study, PMinMCI tested 46 MCI participants and 48 healthy older adults in the same age bracket. Two sessions were conducted, each two hours in length. Prospective memory was assessed and standardised tests were administered. In the second part of the study, participants kept a daily diary for one week in which they recorded their everyday memory lapses. Each participant received two calls a day as a reminder to keep their diary.

Twenty-five MCI individuals and 25 healthy adults of the same age were tested in a second study, which consisted of a 2-hour-long session for each person. A monotonous vigilance task was given to each participant to capture involuntary memories. Participants were asked to provide a brief description of their spontaneous thoughts during the vigilance task and then categorise their thoughts as an involuntary memory, a thought about a future event or a current situation.

Findings indicated that MCI participants performed much worse than the healthy adults on prospective memory tasks, especially on relatively easy ones that were based on spontaneous retrieval of intention. Additionally, MCI individuals had fewer involuntary memories that were also based on spontaneous (automatic) retrieval processes. Those with MCI recorded more retrospective lapses in the diary and also found that keeping a daily diary of memory lapses was helpful for increasing their understanding of their everyday memory functioning.

The PMinMCI study on prospective memory can be adapted for use in clinical settings and incorporated into a standard diagnostic procedure of assessing cognitive impairment in older adults. In addition, keeping a diary of memory errors may have beneficial effects by reducing anxieties and worries about memory functioning.

Related information

Keywords

Dementia, prospective memory, older adults, Alzheimer's, PMINMCI, mild cognitive impairment
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