Memory complaints may signal early brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s

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A new study suggests that when someone notices persistent memory problems, it’s important to consult a doctor.

Researchers from Mass General Brigham found that changes in the brain can be detected when patients and their close ones report cognitive decline, even before an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, showed that reports of memory loss were linked to the buildup of tau tangles in the brain, a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Rebecca E. Amariglio, a senior author of the study and clinical neuropsychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasized the importance of paying attention to memory complaints.

She noted that these complaints can indicate disease severity at the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Amariglio explained, “We now know that brain changes due to Alzheimer’s start well before any clinical symptoms appear.

There is growing evidence that individuals or their close family members may notice memory changes even before doctors can detect cognitive impairment.”

The study, led by first author Michalina F. Jadick, included participants from the “Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic AD/Longitudinal Evaluation of Amyloid Risk (A4/LEARN) and Neurodegeneration” studies and the “Harvard Aging Brain Study.”

The participants were cognitively healthy individuals who were at risk for Alzheimer’s but not yet diagnosed.

Each participant and their study partner, someone familiar with their daily cognitive function, completed evaluations of the participant’s cognitive abilities. Participants also underwent PET imaging to measure levels of tau and amyloid beta, proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found that higher levels of amyloid and tau were associated with greater self-reported cognitive decline among the 675 participants.

Reports from patients and their partners also matched objective cognitive performance tests.

The study had some limitations, as most participants were white and highly educated. Future research should include more diverse participants and follow them over a longer period to get a clearer picture.

Dr. Amariglio cautioned that noticing memory changes doesn’t necessarily mean someone has Alzheimer’s disease. However, concerns from patients or their family members should not be ignored.

In summary, this study highlights the importance of taking memory complaints seriously, as they may signal early brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. Consulting a doctor early on can lead to better monitoring and potential interventions to address cognitive decline.

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