Low Cognitive Awareness, but Not Complaint, is a Good Marker of Preclinical Alzheimer's Disease

J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;59(2):753-762. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170399.


Background: Subjective cognitive decline (SCD) may result from many conditions, including Alzheimer's disease (AD).

Objective: In this study, we searched for a specific pattern of SCD in asymptomatic individuals at risk for AD.

Methods: Cognitively normal older adults (N = 318) reporting SCD and their informants were enrolled in the INSIGHT-PreAD cohort. We examined the relationship between six SCD measures and both cognitive scores and AD neuroimaging markers (amyloid burden, hippocampal atrophy and brain hypometabolism). An awareness of cognitive decline index (ACDI) has been introduced based on the subject-informant discrepancy in a questionnaire of SCD and participants with low versus high awareness were compared.

Results: Scores in the INSIGHT-PreAD SCD questionnaires did not correlate with AD neuroimaging markers. As well, no correlation has been found between SCD measures and cognitive scores. Comparing subjects with a low (n = 19) and high (n = 86) level of awareness, no significant difference in terms of demography, neuropsychiatric symptoms, autonomy, quality of life, cognition, and hippocampal volume was found. However, the "low awareness" group showed greater amyloid burden and lower cortical metabolism, compared to the "high awareness" group.

Conclusion: This study provided additional evidence that reporting SCD by itself is not a specific symptom of preclinical AD. Conversely, a low cognitive awareness (namely, when subjects report fewer difficulties than their relatives do) may represent a very early form of anosognosia and serve as a specific indicator of preclinical AD. This finding is of key importance as an enrichment factor to consider in both clinical practice and research trials.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; awareness; biomarkers; cognitive complaints; subjective cognitive decline.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Aniline Compounds / metabolism
  • Awareness*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / complications*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology*
  • Ethylene Glycols / metabolism
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Aniline Compounds
  • Ethylene Glycols
  • florbetapir