News / Health

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

    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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora