Reviews in Clinical Gerontology

Neuropsychiatry of old age

Are subjective cognitive complaints relevant in preclinical Alzheimer's disease? A review and guidelines for healthcare professionals

Ruth E Marka1 c1 and Margriet M Sitskoorna1

a1 Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology, Tilburg University, The Netherlands


Identifying what makes people vulnerable to developing Alzheimer's disease (AD) is at the forefront of many research programmes, while early diagnosis is the goal in clinical practice. What individuals themselves tell their general practitioners (GPs) is clearly important because these subjective complaints may be a clue that something is wrong. More specifically, subjective cognitive complaints (SCC) may be the first sign of AD in individuals whose cognitive performance on standard neuropsychological tasks is normal for their age. The challenge for researchers in this field is twofold: (a) determining when SCC do or do not predict current cognitive functioning and future dementia; and (b) estimating how relevant they are for patients and their proxies. The current article addresses these issues, while guidelines are also provided in an attempt to help clinicians interpret and make treatment decisions about their patients’ SCC.

(Online publication November 06 2012)

Key words:

  • subjective cognitive complaints;
  • objective cognitive performance;
  • mild cognitive impairment;
  • Alzheimer's disease;
  • risk factors;
  • predictor variables


c1 Address for correspondence: Ruth Elaine Mark, Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology, Tilburg University, Postbox 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. Email: