Subjective Memory May be Marker for Cognitive Decline


Source: University of Texas at Dallas

Summary: Researchers suggests that subjective complaints about poor memory performance, especially in people over 60, could be a useful early marker for the onset of mild cognitive decline, which sometimes foreshadows Alzheimer’s disease.


Subjective memory is a person’s unscientific self-evaluation of how good his or her memory is, and whether, in that person’s opinion, there has been any worsening of memory through age. While some changes may be undetectable to others and are often too subtle to register on cognitive tests, the person subjectively believes that memory is slipping. Previous studies suggest that subjective memory complaints are not necessarily indicative of cognitive decline, and may stem from underlying conditions such as anxiety and depression, which have been shown to impede memory. Researchers from the University of Texas suggests that subjective complaints about poor memory performance, especially in people over 60, could be a useful early marker for the onset of mild cognitive decline, which sometimes foreshadows Alzheimer’s disease. The study findings were published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Unscientific self-evaluation

Psychological sciences doctoral student Marci Horn (left) conducts a name-face memory test as part of a study at the Center for Vital Longevity. Credit: University of Texas at Dallas

The current study measured mood and screened out depressed individuals. The team also measured participants for known risk factors for memory loss and Alzheimer’s, such as higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain and the presence of a gene variant called ApoE4. These factors were taken into account to examine whether subjective memory alone was a reliable correlate of actual memory ability. The study focused on associative memory, for example, remembering word pairs and name-face pairs. This type of memory is particularly sensitive to age-related decline, and the most common complaint of aging individuals. The study found that a person’s intuitive or intrinsic assessment of his or her own memory was actually a reliable predictor of performance on the laboratory memory assessment. This result was particularly true for individuals with genetic risk for memory loss.

Doctoral student Marci Horn said, “Our findings show that subjective memory can be a reliable indicator of memory performance, even in cognitively healthy adults”, “The same people who self-report memory problems may also have other risk factors associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”


More Information: Marci M. Horn et al, “Association between subjective memory assessment and associative memory performance: Role of ad risk factors.,” Psychology and Aging (2018). DOI: 10.1037/pag0000217 


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