A novel study performed in the UK has shockingly revealed that the number of older adults experiencing cognitive impairment has more than doubled in ten years.
Conducted by a team of researchers at University College London (UCL), the study highlighted the urgent need for more care and interventions for older adults with cognitive impairment in the UK. The team’s study analysed the number of people reporting first concerns of memory loss or cognitive decline to their GP and then estimating their likelihood of later developing dementia.
The findings of the study are published in Clinical Epidemiology. The project is part of the APPLE-Tree programme and was supported by the ESRC and NIHR.
The rate of cognitive impairment in the UK
The researchers utilised data from more than 1.3 million UK adults aged between 65 and 99 years old, which was obtained between 2009 and the end of 2018. The team identified 55,941 adults who had discussed memory concerns with their GP and 14,869 individuals who had been diagnosed with cognitive impairment.
Statistically, for every 1,000 people observed in 2009, the team found one new case of cognitive impairment. However, by 2018 this had increased dramatically, and for every 1,000 people observed for that year, there were three new cases of cognitive decline recorded.
Brendan Hallam, the lead author and PhD candidate from UCL Epidemiology & Health Care, commented: “This is an important study which sheds new light on how prevalent memory concerns and cognitive decline are among the older generation in the UK and how likely these symptoms might progress to a dementia diagnosis.
“The study showed that while memory concern rates had remained stable, incidences of cognitive decline, a step beyond memory concern, had more than doubled between 2009 and 2018.
“There has been a drive in the past decade to encourage people to seek help earlier from their doctors if they are worried about their memory, and we found that among those over 80, women and people living in more deprived areas were more likely to have a record of memory concern or cognitive decline, and their symptoms were more likely to progress to dementia diagnosis.”
Additionally, the research demonstrated that 46% of individuals would end up developing dementia within three years of follow-up after initially reporting a memory concern. Moreover, 52% of people with cognitive impairment would go on to develop dementia.
Professor Kate Walters, the co-author of the study from UCL Epidemiology & Health Care, said: “People who have been noted in their health records as having concerns about their memory are at just under 50% chance of developing dementia within the next three years.”
Hallam concluded: “Memory concerns and cognitive decline are hallmark symptoms of dementia, but they also predict a high risk of developing dementia. It is important for GPs to identify people with memory concerns as soon as possible to deliver recommendations to improve memory and allow timely diagnosis of dementia.”
The team outlined that a limitation of their study may be the potential variation in which GPs diagnose memory concerns and memory decline. Furthermore, they explained that more research is required to fully understand the discrepancy between the rates of memory loss symptoms and cognitive impairment in the general population and those recorded in primary care.