Cognitive decline not always a sign of Alzheimer’s disease

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At the first sign of cognitive trouble, people often worry Alzheimer’s disease is forthcoming.

But in a new study from the University of Cambridge, researchers found poor cognition can be part of the spectrum of normality in older age.

In the study, the team compared the brains of cognitively frail adults—people with a reduced cognitive function who haven’t noticed memory issues—to those of adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and healthy controls.

They recruited healthy and cognitively frail adults from the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience study.

Researchers measured participants’ cognition with a battery of tests, their brain structure with MRI, and their brain activity with EEG and MEG.

They found cognitively frail adults performed like adults with MCI on the cognitive tests—both worse than controls.

But their brain structure and activity resembled those of the healthy controls: the atrophy in regions like the hippocampus typical in adults in AD did not appear in cognitively frail adults.

This suggests that impaired cognition can be part of the range of normal aging and is not always an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

The team says cognitive frailty may instead hinge on lifestyle factors—many of which are reversible and modifiable—like physical activity, stress, education, and heart health.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about critical time window to halt Alzheimer’s disease, and drug that could protect cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about COVID-related brain damage more likely in these people, and results showing that one year of this exercise training may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is published in JNeurosci. One author of the study is Ece Kocagoncu.

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