We all have moments when we wonder if we’re losing our minds. Where did I park the car? What was the name of that movie? Is that girl in the store the neighbor’s daughter? And most of the time we tell ourselves — and our friends and family — that these mental blips are a normal part of aging.
Usually, they are just that. But sometimes the memory lapses seem more serious. We start forgetting things that we normally wouldn’t. Tasks that used to be routine are suddenly confusing. Something has changed. Something seems wrong. Turns out, our instincts may be right.
There is increasing evidence that our own perceptions of memory problems are often a valid early marker of changes in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease, according to research in five studies presented this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston.
In one of the studies, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found a strong correlation between patient concerns about their memories and a buildup of amyloid-beta that’s found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease. A related French study found patients’ concern about memory is often a sign of cognitive decline in those who carry the ApoE4 gene that is a marker for Alzheimer’s disease. A third study from the University of Kentucky found those who reported a decline in memory were twice as likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia as those who said their memory hadn’t changed.
These studies show that people can be accurate judges of their own mental decline at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, said Rebecca Amariglio, lead author of the Brigham and Women’s study. She anticipates that this line of research will provide critical information for future Alzheimer’s prevention trials that are searching for ways to slow or reverse the progression of the disease.
Does this mean that every time we forget where we parked the car, we’re heading toward dementia? Absolutely not. With focus and practice we can improve that type of memory. Try these simple tricks to remember everyday things. It does mean, however, that if we have real concerns about our memory, it’s worth talking to our doctor — and making sure he or she takes us seriously.
The Alzheimer’s Association has created this list of 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
• Memory changes that disrupt daily life.
• Challenges in planning or solving problems.
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
• Confusion with time or place.
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
• New problems with words in speaking or writing.
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
• Decreased or poor judgment.
• Withdrawal from work or social activities.
• Changes in mood and personality.
Photo credit: Vince Garcia
Also of Interest
- 6 Food That Will Lower Your Risk of Dementia
- Making Memories at Memory Cafes
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more