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Selective Decline in Memory Function among Healthy Elderly

Small, Scott A.; Stern, Yaakov; Tang, Mingxin; Mayeux, Richard Paul

Objective: To use longitudinally acquired data to establish whether aging is associated with memory decline. Background: Memory loss is one of the most frequent complaints among the elderly. Nevertheless, age-related memory decline remains controversial in large part because it has been established with cross-sectional studies. Methods: A total of 212 community-based healthy people were followed prospectively and evaluated annually with a neuropsychological battery testing memory and other cognitive domains. To control for the learning effect—the improvement in test performance associated with repeated exposure—longitudinal performance was compared between two age groups. Results: The older age group displayed a relative decline in memory performance with time. In contrast to memory, a relative age-related decline was not observed in tests of language, visuospatial ability, and abstract reasoning. Furthermore, within the memory domain, age-related decline was restricted to a specific aspect of memory, manifesting only in a measure sensitive to the acquisition and early retrieval of new information, and not in a measure of memory retention. This profile of age-related cognitive decline anatomically localizes to the hippocampal formation. Conclusion: This study establishes age-related memory decline using longitudinal data, and shows that this decline does not occur diffusely across multiple cognitive domains. Both early AD as well as non-AD processes likely contribute to age-related memory decline, and continued follow-up may reveal distinguishing features between these two.


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June 6, 2018
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