(CNN) — At least once a week a patient will come into Dr. Thomas Loepfe’s busy geriatric clinic in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, with a worry. She will tell him she’s been misplacing her glasses lately, or he’ll say he’s concerned about losing the car keys.
“Age is the biggest risk factor for forgetfulness, so this can be perfectly normal,” Loepfe said. As a geriatrician in the Mayo Clinic Health System, his patient population struggles with memory issues more than a pediatrician’s. “I tell them it doesn’t always mean there is something serious going on.”
But a new study in the American Academy of Neurology this week is giving Loepfe some pause.
The research suggests that people who feel they are forgetting more things may need to be concerned, even if bigger issues aren’t yet showing up on cognitive tests. Participants who reported memory problems at the beginning of the study were more likely to have dementia down the road than those who did not.
“Now we have more evidence that this is something we should watch from appointment to appointment,” Loepfe said.
There is no blood test or definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s, at least not when the patient is alive. An autopsy can provide a diagnosis, because the brain of someone with dementia has physical signs of the disease. But, of course, that test comes too late for any kind of prevention.