Lifestyle Linked to Memory Issues, Even for Younger Adults

Memory loss complaints linked to poor health and lifestyle choices for adults of all ages

(RxWiki News) While there are ways to ease symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, there are no treatments to stop the disease itself. For that reason, many doctors and researchers have shifted their focus to finding ways to prevent the disease.

In a new study, researchers reviewed lifestyle and health risk factors that have been shown to raise the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia in later years.

These researchers found that complaints of memory loss were experienced not only by older adults, but surprisingly also have been reported by younger adults.

"Talk to a doctor if you are experiencing frequent memory loss."

For this study, Stephen T. Chen, MD, and his colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) used Gallup survey responses from 18,552 participants aged 18 to 99 years old.

These respondents were asked questions about their memory and a variety of lifestyle and health factors known to increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The researchers were specifically looking at modifiable risk factors, or risk factors that can be changed. Such factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Depression
  • Cognitive engagement (use of basic skills in higher level thinking)
  • Physical activity
  • Diet

In a press statement, Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA’s Longevity Center and senior author of this study, said, “In this study, for the first time, we determined these risk factors may also be indicative of early memory complaints, which are often precursors to more significant memory decline later in life.”

For this study, participants were separated into three age groups: younger adults (ages 18-39), middle-aged adults (ages 40-59) and older adults (ages 60-99).

A total of 20 percent of all participants, 14 percent of younger adults, 22 percent of middle-aged adults and 26 percent of older adults had complaints of memory loss. However, the reasons for memory issues in younger adults differed greatly from those of older adults. 

The researchers found that depression, low levels of education, a lack of physical activity and high blood pressure were the most frequently reported risk factors by all of the study participants, with depression being the strongest risk factor for memory complaints across all three age groups.

Having just one of the risk factors significantly increased memory loss complaints, regardless of age. As the number of reported risk factors went up, participants reported greater memory loss. 

The researchers were most surprised by the number of memory complaints that were reported by younger adults.

According to the authors of this study, these findings identify how early positive lifestyle and health choices can affect the brain, which could potentially help to lower the risk of having symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer's in later years.

“We hope that our findings will raise awareness among researchers, health care providers and the general public about the importance of lowering these risk factors at any age, such as getting screened and treated for depression and high blood pressure, exercising more and furthering one’s education,” Dr. Chen said in a press statement.

The researchers noted that the main study limitation was their reliance on participants' survey ratings for overall complaints of memory loss. The survey responses could have reflected the subjects’ feelings on the day of the polling, rather than their average day-to-day feelings. Additionally, the surveys were issued by non-clinicians “who were trained to identify respondents having difficulty comprehending or responding to questions, but not those with subtle cognitive impairment.”

Study co-author Fernando Torres-Gil, PhD, a professor at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and associate director of UCLA’s Longevity Center said that the school’s research team is “planning to use these results as a basis for future studies to better understand how reducing these risk factors may possibly lower the frequency of memory complaints.”

The Gallup telephone survey used in this study was conducted between December 2011 and January 2012, and information was collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Approximately 90 percent of the US population was represented by the study sample, according to the researchers.

This study by Dr. Chen and colleagues was published in the journal PLOS ONE on June 4, and was supported by the Gallup organization, Healthways, the Parlow-Solomon Professorship on Aging, the Ahmanson Foundation, the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation Fund for Alzheimer disease Research, the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and the UCLA Longevity Center. Dr. Torres-Gil is a consultant for Healthways.

Dr. Small reported serving as a consultant and/or receiving lecture fees from Novartis, Lily, Pfizer, and Herbalife, receiving grants from POM Wonderful, and having a financial interest in TauMark LLC. No additional conflicts of interest were listed.

Review Date: 
June 6, 2014