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Worried About Your Memory? Alzheimer’s May Not Be to Blame

If you’re experiencing memory problems and are worried about Alzheimer’s disease, your self-awareness is a good sign and your memory issues are probably not related to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new report.

The study, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, found that people who were aware of their memory problems were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia than those who were unaware of their slipping memories.

“If patients complain of memory problems, but their partner or caregiver isn’t overly concerned, it’s likely that the memory loss is due to other factors, possibly depression or anxiety,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Philip Gerretsen, a clinician scientist in CAMH’s Geriatric Division and Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. “They can be reassured that they are unlikely to develop dementia, and the other causes of memory loss should be addressed.”

At the contrary, in other cases, the partner or caregiver is more likely to be distressed while patients don’t feel they have any memory problems. Those patients are more likely to progress to Alzheimer’s and pose extra burdens on caregivers.

For the study, researchers collected data on 1,062 men and women aged 55 to 90 who were part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a large and ongoing study of aging and Alzheimer’s. The study participants included 191 people who had been given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease; 499 who had mild cognitive impairment, a serious form of memory loss that often progresses to full-blown Alzheimer’s; and 372 who were part of a healthy comparison group.

Study participants also underwent PET scans, specialized brain scans that measure the uptake of glucose, or blood sugar, in the brain. Areas of the brain that are active and healthy show high levels of glucose uptake. Parts of the brain critical for memory show lower uptake of glucose in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found that people with mild cognitive impairment who were unaware of their memory problems also tended to have reduced glucose uptake in memory centers of the brain, even when accounting for age and other factors that can impair glucose uptake. Those who were aware of their memory problems, on the other hand, were less likely to progress to Alzheimer’s disease in the time period studied.

In a follow-up study, the researchers are planning to study the effects of brain-training exercises on glucose uptake and memory awareness. The researchers will study whether people with mild cognitive impairment can benefit from transcranial direct current stimulation, a painless procedure that sends a tiny electrical current through the head. Participants will also be getting cognitive remediation, a form of cognitive training in which a therapist guides a small group through a series of brain training exercises.

By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Phillip Gerretsen, MD, PhD; Jun Ku Chang, BSc; Parita Shah, BSc; et al: “Anosognosia Is an Independent Predictor of Conversion From Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease and Is Associated With Reduced Brain Metabolism.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Nov. 2017

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