July 18, 2013
Senior Moments May Be Early Sign Of Alzheimer’s
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Many dismiss forgetfulness among people of a certain age, or "senior moments," as a simple, inescapable part of getting older. However, five new studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association meeting in Boston this week suggest that 'subjective cognitive decline' could be a precursor to Alzheimer's disease.
"Maybe these people know something about themselves and maybe we should pay attention to them," one of the study's co-authors, Dorene Rentz, a Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist, told the Associated Press.
Taken together, the studies are part of a growing movement that looks for signs of Alzheimer's years before the full-blown onset of the disease.
While Creighton Phelps, a neuroscientist with the US National Institute on Aging, told the AP that people shouldn't worry about "senior moments" of memory lapse, a study published earlier this year from the University of Bonn in Germany found "early mild cognitive impairment" to be an indicator of being at-risk for the condition.
Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, said people should be worried about a changing pattern of mental capacity.
"You're starting to forget things now that you normally didn't - doctor appointments, luncheon engagements, the kids are coming over ... things that a year or two ago you wouldn't," he said.
"If you notice a change in your pattern of either yourself or a loved one, seek a health care professional's evaluation," advised Heather Snyder, the Alzheimer's Association's director of medical and scientific operations. "It could be a lack of sleep or nutritional, but it may be something more than that."
At the Alzheimer's conference, researchers from Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston presented evidence connecting cognitive decline to increased, but not abnormal, levels of beta-amyloid peptides that accumulate and interfere with neural signaling. The study included brain scans of 130 people in their 70s, who had no signs of mental illness, but reported that they had worse memory than their peers.
Another study that used a national database of elderly nurses found a connection between a genetic risk factor associated with the disease and performance on memory tests given over the course of six years.
In a different study, Richard Kryscio, a biostatistician at the University of Kentucky, and a team of researchers examined brain scans from 530 volunteers who had reported symptoms of cognitive disease. Over half of the volunteers said they had memory changes across annual exams that were conducted for a decade.
According to Kryscio, a person who reported cognitive changes was three times as likely to have mild cognitive impairment or full-blown dementia. These volunteers tended to be female, overweight, and have a family history of dementia.
Despite all the dire warnings about senior moments, Dr. Reisa Sperling, director of the Alzheimer's center at Brigham and Women's Hospital, warned against being overly alarmed about occasional memory gaps.
"Every time you forget someone's name, you don't need to go running to the doctor," she said.