Memory lapses, or senior moments, may not be caused by getting older, a new study published in Neurology explains. Researchers note that early signs of memory loss which are more common from old age than dementia are caused by brain lesions closely related to Alzheimer’s disease.
Beginning signs of cognitive loss originally believed to be due to aging may be signs of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Parts of the brain related to certain dementias affect memory function more than originally understood.
For this study, data from more than 350 individuals were studied for up to 13 years. Cognitive tests were performed annually, and after death, each brain was observed for dementia-related lesions such as Lewy bodies, stroke signs, or neurofibrillary tangles.
Researchers analyzed changes in cognitive function, specifically the rate of change over time. During the last four to five years, researchers noted a very fast decline in function, while the prior years had a moderate decline, associated with aging.
As experts guessed, pathologic lesions caused, in some way, the steep decline, but surprised to discover the pathology largely predicted some change in brain function.
As neurofibrillary tangle density increased, cognitive function decreased. Also, stroke and Lewy bodies increased memory decline rate by nearly 200 percent, and no cognitive decline was evident where lesions were not present.
This study determines how Alzheimer’s and other similar dementias are the base cause of nearly all cognitive and memory loss in old age. Other factors, like gene vulnerability, exist, but the study appears to have concluded the main proponent.
Experts explain being able to recognize early changes in cognitive function may assist earlier diagnosis and help treat or alter the disease.