Senility: Worse Than You Think…..Maybe

A new study came out about the link between memory loss and death:

“The association between cognitive impairment and death risk was found even for mild impairment,” says Greg A. Sachs, MD, professor of medicine and a scientist at the Center for Aging Research at Regenstrief Institute, Indiana University School of Medicine.

“When the impairment was moderate to severe, the impact on death risk was as great as [for] many chronic conditions, like congestive heart failure and diabetes,”

These sorts of studies are interesting, but next to useless IMO.

They studied thousands of old people over 13 years and found that those with reported cognitive impairment had death rates about 20% higher than those with none.

But the paper has lots of holes.

  1). They used to self-reported 10 question surveys to classify people into their groups. Self-reporting has enough problems, and classifying someone’s mental state based on 10 questions has lots of others. Putting the two together gives you a very crude approximation of someone’s mental health.

 2). They didn’t assess people’s mental state over time. Over 13 years, that’s kind of a big deal. The distribution of the demented/non-demented people in the study could have changed enough to make the original tallies meaningless.

 From what I can tell, they just tallied up the death rates and compared them to the questions people gave on the survey in 1993.  Well, big whoop.

When you’re old, your mental health is closely associated with your overall health. People who are clearly demented usually have lots of other health problems too. In which case, this study tells us that less healthy old people die more often than more healthy old people. Not exactly groundbreaking.

That said, the relationship between brain functioning and the aging process is an interesting area, and something I’d like to know more about.


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