BACKGROUND Population studies indicate that subjective memory complaints by elderly people are correlated with cognitive performance. These complaints have some predictive power regarding the development of dementia. The present study attempted to replicate this finding, and investigated which variables determine subjective memory complaints.
METHOD Participants in the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (n = 2114; 65-84 years of age), who were not demented and had a normal MMSE score (> 23) at baseline, were re-examined after four years. Subjective complaints were measured using a previously developed scale. Dementia and depression were measured using the Geriatric Mental State Schedule (GMS). Premorbid intelligence was measured by the Dutch Adult Reading Test (DART).
RESULTS Memory complaints at baseline contributed a small but significant amount of diagnostic information with respect to the prediction of future dementia. Depressive symptoms at baseline had no predictive value when these memory complaints were accounted for. Subjective memory complaints were associated with depression, baseline MMSE score, and premorbid intelligence.
CONCLUSIONS Subjective memory complaints are not just secondary to depression, but in part reflect realistic self-observations of cognitive decline.