Background: The high prevalence of subjective memory impairment (SMI) in the elderly living in developed countries may be partly dependent on greater demand placed on them by new technologies. As part of a comprehensive study on cognitive impairment in a population living in the Amazon rainforest, we evaluated the prevalence of SMI and investigated the features associated with it.
Methods: We evaluated 163 subjects (82 females) with a mean age of 62.3 years (50–94 years), 110 of whom were illiterate, using the answer to a single question “Do you have memory problems?” to classify them into groups with or without SMI. The assessment involved application of the Mini-mental State Examination (MMSE), delayed recall from the Brief Cognitive Battery designed for the evaluation of low educated and illiterate individuals, the Patient Questionnaire (PQ) of the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders (PRIME-MD), and the Happiness Analogical Scale.
Results: A very high prevalence of SMI (70%) was observed, exceeding rates reported by similar studies conducted in developed countries. SMI was more frequent in women, whereas age and education did not impact on prevalence. Subjects with SMI had significantly more somatic and psychiatric symptoms on the PQ, as well as lower means on the MMSE, but not on the delayed recall test. Multiple logistic regressions showed that the most important factor associated with the presence of SMI was a high score on the PQ (OR: 3.84, p = 0.011).
Conclusion: Psychological and somatic symptoms may be the principal cause of SMI in this population.