The two studies, published in the April issue of Neurology have reported that a person’s memory declines at a faster rate in the last 2 ½ years of life than at any other period after memory problems have been noticed.
Subsequently, a less morbid study has documented results that show people who stay stimulated through activities such as board games or light reading could have a better chance of hanging onto a sharp memory as these years approach.
In the initial study 174 Catholic priests, nuns and monks without memory problems had their memory tested yearly for six to 15 years before they passed away. After they passed away, researchers probed for markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
The research found a steep decline in memory and general thinking abilities that typically began about 2 ½ years before death. In fact the rates were noted to be up to 17 times faster than before the 2 ½ year point.
The second study reported on the type and frequency of activities partaken in by 1,076 elderly participants who showed no signs of dementia. Oregon Health and Science University professor Hiroko Dodge gave his comments saying, “the findings suggest that the changes in mental abilities during the two to three years before death are not driven directly by processes related to Alzheimer’s disease, but instead that the memory and other cognitive decline may involve some biological changes in the brain specific to the end of life.”
The results also showed that participation in mentally stimulating activities (such as reading, checkers or simple card games) helped considerably and therefore suggest a cause and effect relationship between being mentally active and significantly better cognitive health in old age.
The signs and symptoms of dementia should be watched for carefully if you know someone who is getting up in years. With dementia, there will usually be a decline in communication, remembering, and problem solving, but there is a variety of other symptoms that should be monitored closely too.
If you know someone exhibiting any of these symptoms, make sure to contact your healthcare practitioner to discuss the next steps immediately.