News / Health

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

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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs