September 18, 2010
Old Age Memory Losses All On Road To Dementia

If you are losing memory as you age the process causing that is likely the same process that causes dementia and Alzheimer's disease - just not as far along.

Simply getting older is not the cause of mild memory lapses often called senior moments, according to a new study by researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.  The study, published in the September 15, 2010, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that even the very early mild changes in memory that are much more common in old age than dementia are caused by the same brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

“The very early mild cognitive changes once thought to be normal aging are really the first signs of progressive dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s disease.” said Robert S.Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center. “The pathology in the brain related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias has a much greater impact on memory function in old age than we previously recognized.”

Brain aging is my most disliked form of aging. Your brain is who you are. I do not want to lose my own identity, not even part of it, before death. Brain decay is like living daily partial death.

Nuns, priests, and brothers had their cognitive function tracked and then their brains were autopsied.

The study involved over 350 nuns, priests and brothers who participated in Rush’s Religious Orders Study and completed up to 13 years of annual cognitive testing. After death, the brains were examined for the lesions associated with dementia: neurofibrillary tangles, cerebral infarction (stroke), and Lewy bodies.

These results suggest that anything that decreases your odds of dementia or Alzheimer's will also slow and delay brain aging.

The brain changes that caused mild decline in cognitive function were the same in kind but not extent as compared to more advanced mental decay.

Researchers looked at the rate of change in cognitive function over time. The last four to five years of life showed a very rapid decline. The preceding years showed a much more gradual decline that would be described as normal aging.

As expected, pathologic lesions were related to the rapid decline, but researchers were somewhat surprised to find the pathology was very strongly predictive of the mild changes in cognitive function.

Higher tangle density adversely affected all forms of cognition at all trajectory points. Both Lewy bodies and stroke approximately doubled the rate of gradual memory decline, and almost no gradual decline was seen in the absence of lesions.

If you live a long time you can not avoid the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer's patients. By age 90 virtually everyone still alive has these tangles and plaques in their brains. We need ways to prevent and reverse their formation.

Want to reduce your odds of memory loss with age? Read my Aging Diet Brain Studies category archive and check out which dietary changes you can make to improve your odds.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 18 12:58 PM  Aging Brain Studies

James Bowery said at September 18, 2010 5:47 PM:

It's pretty clear that stupidity in high places is the rule -- that is excepting for the ability to retain control in the near term. I mean why didn't a substantial fraction of those hundreds of billions of stimulus monies go toward the Methuselah Mouse prize and follow-ons? The malaise is frozen capital. Big stakes contests are a great way to get the big boys off their butts.

Its pretty clear that the IQ of the folks making all these lame-ass decisions isn't all that high. So the question is why aren't the folks with supposedly high IQ's doing more to remove their control before their high IQ's bite the dust?

Underachiever said at September 18, 2010 7:24 PM:

If it was up to me, the government would fund the Methuselah foundation, and give a huge prize to whoever develops the best cloud computing medical diagnostic computer program.

Don't get too excited, but an article in the Washington post asks: is old age a cause of death?

Randall Parker said at September 18, 2010 8:25 PM:


Interesting article from WPost. Yes, of course old age is a cause of death. It is the cause of most death. It is just that much of the time a small number of pieces fail. But as you get older everything fails.

I disagree with the guy in the WPost article who does not want to see old age applied much to people at age 75 or 85. Some people age more rapidly.

Look at infectious disease as a cause of death. At first glance it is a clear cause of death if an old person gets pneumonia and dies. But young people rarely die from pneumonia because their immune systems are young. Immune system aging also increases the risk of death from cancer. Cancer itself is just a result of accumulated damage to DNA. That damage to DNA is aging. We accumulate damage and then some part fails and we die.

riv said at September 19, 2010 3:39 AM:

Since most people over 50 are on statins, why not look to the statin as the cause of memory loss, language loss, confusion, disorientation, irritability and more:

© 2005 Geriatric Times. All rights reserved.

Statin Adverse Effects: Implications for the Elderly

Which says, in part:

"Cognitive problems also occur with statins and may also have more impact in elderly patients. Two randomized trials that were designed to assess cognitive effects of statins have shown worsening in cognitive function (Muldoon et al., 2002, 2000). In addition, several case reports (King et al., 2003, 2001; Orsi et al., 2001) and one large case series (involving 60 patients) (Wagstaff et al., 2003) have reported deleterious cognitive effects of statins on memory and cognitive function."

jmiddel said at September 19, 2010 8:12 AM:

After using statins (Crestor) for a period of three months, I developed peripheral neuropathy. Statins may or may not be damaging to the CNS, but surely to the peripheral nerves.

Another culprit may be mercury in amalgam fillings. Anyway, I am changing mine!

Sione said at September 19, 2010 4:09 PM:

This, "Brain decay is like living daily partial death" is so true.

I knew a jolly fellow who had a fall which initiated a process of brain decay. He became a different person- smaller, more limited, less interested in life, less capable of enjoying it. It appeared his consciousness altered and not in a good way. There was a real sense of loss, exactly like the sentiment of the quote above. Some of what was "him" had died and over time more of "him" dies away. I don't know this "new" fellow well. Parts I recognise, but the creaping death takes away.


Biobob said at September 20, 2010 12:32 AM:

"Cancer itself is just a result of accumulated damage to DNA."

This is an inaccurate statement in every way, Randall. There are a multitude of causes of cancer but none of them are actually the result of some "accumulation" of DNA damage. There are viral infections that cause cancer; there are snp mutations that cause cancers, there transcription errors in blocks of genes that cause cancers; etc etc. but most or all of these more or less instantaneously result in cancerous cells.

If you are thinking that some accumulation of DNA damage allows cancer to prosper, proliferate and not be controlled by some normal biological process damaged by earlier genetic damage, then that is fine.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©