Objective: To use longitudinally acquired data to establish whether aging is associated with memory decline.
Background: Memory loss is one of the most frequent complaints among the elderly. Nevertheless, age-related memory decline remains controversial in large part because it has been established with cross-sectional studies.
Methods: A total of 212 community-based healthy people were followed prospectively and evaluated annually with a neuropsychological battery testing memory and other cognitive domains. To control for the learning effect-the improvement in test performance associated with repeated exposure-longitudinal performance was compared between two age groups.
Results: The older age group displayed a relative decline in memory performance with time. In contrast to memory, a relative age-related decline was not observed in tests of language, visuospatial ability, and abstract reasoning. Furthermore, within the memory domain, age-related decline was restricted to a specific aspect of memory, manifesting only in a measure sensitive to the acquisition and early retrieval of new information, and not in a measure of memory retention. This profile of age-related cognitive decline anatomically localizes to the hippocampal formation.
Conclusion: This study establishes age-related memory decline using longitudinal data, and shows that this decline does not occur diffusely across multiple cognitive domains. Both early AD as well as non-AD processes likely contribute to age-related memory decline, and continued follow-up may reveal distinguishing features between these two.