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Extra-chatty older relatives may need to see a doctor
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Family gatherings are a good time to pay attention to how older relatives interact. A new study says longer sentences and being extra chatty could be indicators of mild cognitive impairment, a stage when treatments and interventions offer promise. - photo by Lois M. Collins
Family gatherings are a good time to pay attention to how older relatives interact. A new study says longer sentences and being extra chatty could be indicators of mild cognitive impairment, a stage when early interventions could perhaps lessen the chance it turns into full-blown dementia.

The study was in the journal Current Alzheimer Research.

Researchers at the University of Michigan were looking at older people who did and did not have mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to ills like Alzheimer's disease, when they "inadvertently found that the subjects with MCI were very chatty," according to the university's NeuroHealth blog.

"The subjects were taking part in consistent social interactions for six weeks," noted Oscar Ybarra, the co-investigator. "Some of the research assistants, who did not know whether the participants had MCI, started noticing that some participants weren't really picking up on social cues."

The Alzheimer's Association notes that MCI "causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills." It adds that "a person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's or another dementia."

The Mayo Clinic calls MCI "an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes." While the clinic notes MCI can progress to dementia, it also says that "some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better."

According to the blog, Ybarra and principal investigator Hiroko Dodge created a study to look at those conversations. The blog said they found those with mild cognitive impairment "used about 6 percent more words in a conversation than those without it."

They don't know why, but suggest it could be that individuals with early impairment "lose time orientation," may grapple to find the right word and don't pick up on other social cues.

They suggest that family members bring it up at a doctor's appointment, "hopefully earlier in the process than other testing."