Memory Decline May Be Rapid Before Alzheimer’s Onset...

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May 28, 2010

May 28, 2010

A rapid decline in thinking and memory skills often heralds the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reports. The findings are consistent with earlier findings that Alzheimer’s is often preceded by an accelerated loss of memory as well as other thinking skills like attention, visual and spatial awareness, and judgment, making it difficult for those with the disease to find their way or do things like balance a checkbook.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, from the American Academy of Neurology, found that memory loss and other cognitive problems may decline rapidly in people who have mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, a form of serious memory loss that sometimes precedes the full-fledged dementia of Alzheimer’s. The memory loss is notably more severe than the ordinary mental decline that can accompany aging. Memory problems decline even more rapidly once Alzheimer’s is present.

“These results show that we need to pay attention to this time before Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed, when people are just starting to have problems forgetting things,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the study’s authors.

The study, part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, involved 1,158 seniors living in the community. Their average age was 79. Over all, 149 of the participants had Alzheimer’s disease, 395 had mild cognitive impairment, and 614 had no serious thinking or memory problems.

Tests to measure memory and thinking skills tests were given to all the participants at the start of the study and repeated every three years. People took part in the study for an average of 5.5 years, though some in the study for twice that long.

The thinking skills of those with mild cognitive impairment declined twice as fast each year as those who did not have cognitive problems but may have declined slightly due to normal aging. In those with Alzheimer’s disease, thinking skills declined four times as fast as those with no cognitive problems.

“The changes in rate of decline occur as the brain atrophies due to the disease, first mainly in the hippocampus during the initial symptomatic stage, referred to as mild cognitive impairment, then in the temporal, parietal and frontal cortex during the dementing illness phase of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. David S. Knopman of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

The findings point to new signs that those who have memory and thinking problems need to be assessed regularly by a physician. The findings also point to possible mechanisms by which Alzheimer’s may damage different areas of the brain, causing loss of particular memory and thinking skills in a predictable pattern.

Currently, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can only be confirmed by examining the brain on autopsy after death. Earlier diagnosis may allow for earlier treatment of the disease, when medications may be most effective. New drugs on the horizon may delay progression to more serious stages of disease.

By, The Alzheimer's Information Site. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.


R. S. Wilson, Ph.D., N. T. Aggarwal, M.D., L. L. Branes, Ph.D., et al: “Cognitive Decline in Incident Alzheimer Disease in a Community Population,” Neurology, 2010, Vol. 74, pages 951-955.

David S. Knopman, M.D.: “Mild Cognitive Impairment and on to Dementia: Down the Slipper Slope But Faster,” Neurology, March 23, 2010, pages 942-944.

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13 Responses to Memory Decline May Be Rapid Before Alzheimer’s Onset

  1. Mrs Lovatt says:

    thank you for this information, i am just doing some research as my father is suffering memory problems, he is 79 and still working as a shoe repairer. he will be attending an appointment soon to our local memory clinic to see a specialist

  2. nur athirah says:

    is it possible for someone who is 18 years old to have alzheimer??because one of my friend is suffering memory problem.

  3. Manivel says:

    Recently my Doctor has diagnosed that I am affected by Dementia. I am not able to understand what is mean by Dementia and how to avoid this and recover from this.The people are saying that I may become Lunatics very soon. Actually recently I am having very frequent memory loss and suffering due to this. Though I am able to recollect my memories of past life morethan 40 years, but unable to recollect instant past memories which is very difficult to go out side the house with out anybody’s help ormaccompany. Kindly if anybody give proper advice to follow for my remaining life. Now I am 63 years old.

  4. Frank says:

    I am 56 and have had poor memory all my life. It has been getting progressively worse and I am showing signs of dementia. I was diagnosed as having early Dementia. Maybe is like borderline diabetes, it really doesn’t exist. Age has no boundary and genetics play a very important role. With the state and future outlook of our health system, God look over us all!

  5. leslie richardson says:

    Currently under medication for seizures/cpap machine, at 55 my memory loss is getitng worse as is my moods,not sure of the cause nor is
    anyone else from xrays etc,dementia was a possibilty,need more info local dr/clinics overworked and useless or unafforable.
    my biggest concern is my wife…she cares but
    has no control of my situation.

  6. sandeepkhairah says:

    I am 34 year old women, I have problems with forgetfulness. Sometimes I forget even my own mobile number. Is it a dementia problem?

  7. CAtherine Mire says:

    I am afraid of suffering from early Alzheimer’s or Dementia. What should I be asking my dr. I have serious memory loss, that is progressing. I readalot of stuff on this website and it seemed to confirm where I am at this point. SHould I be deciding wherew Iam going to live? Such as a nursing home? I am completely alone without family, except for my 87 yr. old mom, who has both diseases.

  8. carol says:

    I would like to know if I have early sighns of dementia. I can be talking to some one I known for ages, even work with every day and forget their name. Its happening a lot lately and very frustrating. I’m 54.

  9. joe kearns says:

    Hi. how early can a person have alzeimer,s. I am concerned for myself. I am 55 years of age. thank you. Joe

  10. m brown says:

    do you tell someone who has dementia that they loved ones have died when they ask where they are?

    • Josephine says:

      Depends on how progressive is their dementia.I wouldn’t tell at all.If you do it may upset her even more and you may have to deal with her mood.Even if you tell her that her other half has passed away she may forget the next day or the next hour and she will continually be asking you and you would continually be upseting them.

  11. Jrnny North says:

    My mother in law just movev in with us 3 weeks ago, she was living in her own apartment for 13 years, we noticed in the past year that her memory was declining and was not taking her medication correctly, we would go over by her 3-5 days per week and find medication on the floor, said she was taking a shower but the tub was always bone dry, and argue with my husband that she was doing this, it was getting harder and harder for us to keep running over due to my husbands and mine disabilities, so we decided to move her in with us, it has been a nightmare since day one , thinks we are to wait on her hand and foot and repeats herself over and over again, she was diaanozed with dementia from her doctor and knows she is here with us, I cannot get her to do anything so I called the doctor and told him what was going on , so he told me to assign small tasks everyday, her long term memory is repeated time and time again but can\\\’t remember any short, not even what day it is , sometimes it appears she is playing games but don\\\’t know for sure, any input from anyone ? or advice ? I\\\’m pulling my hair out , it is very difficult, but I didn\\\’t think it would be this bad.

  12. kym says:

    My mum is convinced she has dementia as she forgets birthdays she reads books and knows what happened some days she stays in bed and has spent all weekend in bef

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