News / Health

For Some, Mild Slips of Memory May Be Very Early Alzheimer's

TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— For years, doctors have dismissed patients' worries about mild slips of memory as a normal part of aging. Now, as the focus in Alzheimer's research moves toward early diagnosis, researchers are looking for ways to tell whether some of these “senior moments” are an early sign of the disease.
 
The idea is so new that scientists can't even agree on what to call these memory complaints among people who are still cognitively normal.
 
But experts gathered at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Boston say evidence is growing that it may be possible to couple certain patterns of memory lapses with genetic markers or changes in the brain and spinal fluid to better predict which individuals are displaying the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's.
 
Finding people who are just beginning to develop the disease is important as companies struggle to find treatments that can prevent or delay the disease. In the past 12 months, several high-profile clinical trials testing drugs in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's failed to show a benefit. Scientists believe that may be because the drugs are being tried too late, when the disease has already killed off too many brain cells.
 
Last week, Eli Lilly and Co. announced it will start a new clinical trial of its experimental Alzheimer's drug solanezumab focusing only on patients with mild signs of the disease, after two late-stage studies of the treatment in people with more advanced disease failed to show a benefit.
 
Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association, said scientists are just beginning to quantify whether anecdotal reports of memory loss have any bearing on whether a person ultimately develops dementia.
 
The difficulty is that many things can cause temporary memory slips, including sleeplessness, depression, stress and some medications. “The question is which ones are indicative of underlying pathological changes,” he said.
 
To study the problem, Dr. Rebecca Amariglio, a neurologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, took a sample of 189 clinically normal adults over age 65 and asked them questions about their memories.
 
Researchers also did brain scans using a radioactive tracer that can detect the presence of a protein called beta amyloid that is believed to be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.
 
The team found that the people who reported the most trouble with their memories also had amyloid buildup in their brains. “Subjective concerns may be an early indicator of Alzheimer's pathology,” said Amariglio, who is presenting her findings at the Alzheimer's meeting this week.
 
Questions used by the team covered a whole range of common  memory issues, such as misplacing belongings or forgetting details of conversations.
 
Such lapses can of course be just an artifact of people leading busy lives. The trick is sorting out which memory complaints are meaningful and which aren't.
 
Dr. Richard Kryscio, an expert in biostatistics at the University of Kentucky, has been tracking memory complaints in more than 1,000 cognitively healthy people in their 60s and 70s for more than a decade.
 
People who sign up for the study visit the center once a year to take a battery of cognitive tests. Each person is asked whether he or she has noticed any decline in memory since the last visit.
 
Kryscio reported results of the first 531 people at the Alzheimer's meeting. The group started the study at an average age of 73.
 
Over the course of 10 years, more than half of study participants said they noticed a change in their memories. Among this group, individuals were also twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia or a precursor to dementia called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in follow-up visits as those who reported no change.
 
A separate study from Cecilia Samieri of the Research Center Inserm in Bordeaux, France, and colleagues at Brigham & Women's also found a strong correlation between self-reports of memory loss in individuals with a gene defect called APOE4 that is known to raise the risk of Alzheimer's.
 
Amariglio said the findings are more important for research than for doctors, because there are no proven treatments to prevent the development of Alzheimer's.
 
Dr. Creighton Phelps of the National Institute on Aging said in the past that Alzheimer's researchers have written off people's reports of memory loss among the cognitively normal as a concern of the “worried well,” but that now they are starting to listen more carefully.
 
“Over time, these self-reports do lead to some measurable declines,” he said.
 
That doesn't mean that people who occasionally lose their keys or forget where they parked the car should go rushing to their doctors, said Dr. Ronald Petersen, an expert in early Alzheimer's disease at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
 
In a study his team is doing of cognitively healthy people, 80 percent of normal people aged 70 and older will say their memory is not what it once was.
 
“What this research is trying to do is carve out that subset of people who are really telling us something that might be important.”

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid