Longitudinal changes in memory, visuospatial and verbal functioning in a sample of demented persons were examined. The role of several demographic, psychometric, and biological indices in predicting the rate of cognitive deterioration was also investigated. The sample consisted of 31 very old (mean age at entry = 83.5 years, range = 75–95) persons with Alzheimer’s disease (n = 22) and vascular dementia (n = 9) from a community-based study. Subjects were tested on two occasions separated by approximately 2.5 years. Results indicated significant longitudinal decline in verbal fluency and visuospatial ability, but only on 1 of 3 measures of episodic memory. Results from regression analyses indicated that a variety of putatively important variables, including age, gender, education, digit span, as well as a number of biological (vitamin B12, TSH), dementia etiology, and psychometric (digit span) indicators, exhibited no relationship to rate of memory, visuospatial, or verbal decline. The results suggest that the rate of cognitive deterioration in dementia is highly variable, and this variability in change appears to include a variety of characteristics. A possible reason thereof may be that the role of individual-difference variables for cognitive functioning in dementia is overshadowed by the pathogenetic process itself.

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