Self-reported cognitive decline among middle and older age autistic adults

Klein, Claire B; McQuaid, Goldie A; Charlton, Rebecca A; Klinger, Laura G and Wallace, Gregory L.. 2023. Self-reported cognitive decline among middle and older age autistic adults. Autism Research, 16(3), pp. 605-616. ISSN 1939-3792 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Very little is known about autistic adults as they age. Early evidence suggests a potentially high risk for dementia and atypical cognitive decline in autistic middle and older age adults. Research in the general population indicates that self-reported cognitive decline may predict future dementia earlier than performance-based measures. Nevertheless, self-report dementia screeners have not been used to date in autism research. In a sample of middle and older age autistic adults (N = 210), participants completed a self-rated dementia screener, the AD8, to describe the rate of cognitive decline, examine associations of cognitive decline with age, educational level, sex designated at birth, and autistic traits, and document the psychometrics of a dementia screener in autistic adults. We found high rates of cognitive decline with 30% of the sample screening positive. The most common symptoms were declining interest in leisure activities, and increases in everyday problems with thinking, memory, and judgment. There was evidence that autistic individuals designated female at birth may be more vulnerable to cognitive decline than autistic individuals designated male at birth. Notably, reports of cognitive decline did not vary by age or educational level. Modestly elevated autistic traits were found in those screening positive versus negative for cognitive decline. Finally, the dementia screener showed good psychometrics, including convergent validity with an independent measure of current memory problems. These results could signal an emerging public health crisis in autistic adults as they age, and support the potential utility of self-report measures for early screening for cognitive decline in this population.

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Funding information: Autism Speaks; George Washington University

Data Access Statement:

Data Availability Statement: Qualified researchers approved by SPARK can obtainthe broader demographic and phenotypic data describedin this study by applying through SFARI Base at


adulthood, ageing, autism spectrum disorder, cognitive decline, dementia, mild cognitive impairment

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4 December 2022Accepted
13 December 2022Published Online
March 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

10 Jan 2023 14:24

Last Modified:

13 Dec 2023 02:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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