People who have thinking problems - but who have an intact memory - may be more prone to early death than people who have no problems with their memory or thinking. These are the findings of one of the first studies to look at the relationship between early death and mild cognitive impairment.

Although memory problems are a normal part of aging, people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have more of these problems than other people of a similar age.

The two types of MCI are "amnestic MCI" and "non-amnestic MCI."

A person with amnestic MCI may forget important information that they could have previously easily recalled and may forget to keep appointments. This kind of MCI mainly affects memory.

People have non-amnestic MCI when their thinking skills are affected. They may lose the ability to make sound decisions or work out the sequence of steps needed to complete a task. Visual perception and being able to judge time may also be affected, but memory remains intact.

A 2009 study published in the journal Archives of Neurology previously found a reduced life expectancy in some people with Alzheimer's disease and its precursor, MCI.

Now, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, have further investigated this link between death and memory and thinking skills. They present their findings at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

Over the 6-year study period, participants with MCI had an 80% higher death rate

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Study participants with non-amnestic MCI were twice as likely to die as the people without MCI, while participants with amnestic MCI had a 68% higher death rate than the group without MCI.

The study included 862 people with thinking problems and 1,292 people with no thinking problems between the ages of 70 and 89.

The participants were given tests at the start of the study to assess their thinking abilities. They then took part in follow-up tests every 15 months for the next 6 years.

Over this study period, 331 participants in the group who had MCI, and 224 people in the group without MCI, died. Overall, the MCI group had an 80% higher death rate.

But the researchers also found differences in the death rates between the people with amnestic and non-amnestic MCI.

The people with non-amnestic MCI were twice as likely to die as the people without MCI, while people with amnestic MCI had a 68% higher death rate than the group without MCI.

"Currently there is little information about death and the types of memory loss that affect many millions of Americans," says study author Dr. Maria Vassilaki.

She adds:

"Exploring how memory may or may not be linked with the length of life a person has is of tremendous significance as the population ages. We will continue to study the how and why regarding the relationship between memory decline, thinking decline and death. This research brings us one step at a time closer to the answers."

Recently, Medical News Today reported on the development of a new blood test to predict Alzheimer's or MCI. The researchers behind the project claim that the test can predict "with 90% accuracy" whether a healthy person will develop cognitive decline within 3 years.