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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2008 Nov;14(6):1004-13. doi: 10.1017/S1355617708081332.

Subjective memory complaints and concurrent memory performance in older patients of primary care providers.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


Subjective memory complaints (SMCs) are known to be inconsistently related to current memory impairment in older adults but this association has not been well investigated in primary care provider (PCP) settings. To characterize the complexity of the relationship between SMCs and objective memory in older outpatients of PCPs, we collected neuropsychological, subjective memory, depression and medical chart data from outpatients aged 65 and older, without documented dementia diagnoses, in eleven PCP offices in and around the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Results indicated that self-estimates of current memory ability were most strongly associated with objective memory performance; in contrast, perception of worsening memory over the past year showed no association; and specific memory-related activities were only weakly associated. Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between SMCs and objective memory performance. Only two of the 11 most significantly memory-impaired participants endorsed SMCs and only four had PCP chart documentation of memory problems. Eliciting SMCs in non-demented older adults can be of clinical value in a PCP setting, but significant limitations of patient self-report in more memory-impaired patients underscore the need to develop brief, objective indicators of memory impairment for PCP office use when there is suspicion of decline.

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