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.

By Randall Parker at 2010 September 18 12:58 PM  Aging Brain Studies

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