April 28, 2003
Many of the Very Old Remain Alert and Independent – Although your risk for Alzheimer’s increases dramatically the older you get, many people in very old age remain active and alert, a study from the Mayo Clinic reports. “Just because you’re in your 90s does not mean you’ll be living in a nursing home or developing dementia,” says Bradley Boeve, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and lead author of the publication. The researchers gave a battery of tests to 111 men and women aged 90 to 99 and found that a significant proportion remained free of Alzheimer’s and other memory problems. “At least half of these people looked pretty normal,” says Dr. Boeve. “In fact, some performed in the superior range on cognitive tests even when compared with much younger individuals.”
Old age can produce physical frailty that some may mistake for general impairment. But more commonly, many older people can continue to live independently. More common than Alzheimer’s is a less severe form of memory impairment called “mild cognitive impairment,” or MCI. People with MCI may forget appointments, recent conversations, and have other serious memory lapses but otherwise think clearly. In this study, about 12 percent of participants had significant memory problems but were still able to live independently and manage their daily affairs.
The findings expand our knowledge of the oldest old and challenge common misconceptions that memory loss inevitably leads to Alzheimer’s during the last years of life. Although many people with MCI do get worse, memory decline appears to be as gradual during these years, the results indicate, as they are during earlier times.
Researchers are now looking into whether drugs such as Aricept, Exelon, and Reminyl, which can provide modest benefits in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, may be beneficial for people with MCI as well. If so, they may be beneficial for even the very oldest seniors, these results indicate.
The study appeared in the February 11, 2003 issue of the medical journal Neurology.
By Toby Bilanow, Medical Writer, for www.ALZinfo.org. The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.