Memory problems not a normal sign of aging: study

Wed Sep 15, 2010 6:51pm EDT
 
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Mild memory problems in older people are often excused as "senior moments," but a new study has found the same changes in the brain that cause severe dementia may also be responsible for those memory lapses.

The findings contradict a long-held notion that memory loss is a normal part of aging, the U.S. team said on Wednesday.

"We don't think that just because you are old, a problem in thinking and memory is normal and should be ignored. We think it's an actual sign of disease," said Robert Wilson, a researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, whose study appears in the journal Neurology.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is a fatal brain disease in which people gradually lose their memory and their ability to reason and care for themselves.

Only an autopsy can confirm the brain changes used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. Short of that, most patients have to take a battery of memory tests administered by specialists.

Wilson's findings are the latest from a long-running study of 350 Catholic nuns, priests and brothers who were given memory tests each year for up to 13 years.

When they died, their brains were examined. Pathologists looked specifically for tau, a toxic protein that forms tangles in the brain linked with Alzheimer's disease.

They also checked for evidence of strokes and for Lewy bodies -- an abnormal protein in nerve cells that can cause a form of dementia called Lewy body disease.   Continued...