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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Over 20 percent of older adults suffer from subjective memory impairment, where a person reports having trouble remembering things with no evidence of actual memory loss. Now Penn State researchers are looking into the growing evidence that subjective memory impairment can lead to Alzheimer’s disease in some older adults.

Principal investigator Nikki Hill, assistant professor of nursing, aims to discover how poor self-perceptions of memory, depression, anxiety, and declines in activity are related to actual memory decline over time. As part of a four-year project being funded by the National Institute on Aging, Hill, along with Jacqueline Mogle, assistant clinical professor of nursing, and Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development and family studies, will also identify individual characteristics that contribute to these relationships in hopes of developing better early screening and personalized intervention options for Alzheimer’s disease.

Subjective memory impairment is associated with several negative outcomes in older adults, including Alzheimer’s, but little is known regarding the relationship between subjective memory impairment and memory decline.

“We seek to understand why some older adults with subjective memory impairment are at a greater risk for memory decline and better identify those individuals across clinical and community settings,” said Hill.

Feelings of memory loss can cause anxiety, depression and withdrawal from social and other activities, all of which are known to increase the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, with the average health-care costs for dementia in the last five years of life averaging almost $300 thousand and Medicare only paying about a third of these costs, the financial burden on individuals and their families is staggering.