Think You’re Losing It? Maybe You Don’t Need to Worry

I have a family member who told me this Christmas that she is “really losing her memory” and this notion has her extremely distressed.  

And each of us, I expect, has experienced some fear or at least embarrassment when we’re caught forgetting something that we should have remembered.  (Insert “senior moment” joke here.)

But a new study suggests that if you are aware of memory loss, then you’re much less likely to actually develop Alzheimer’s Disease.  The bigger concern is losing memory without such awareness.  According to a large-scale study published in last October’s Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, those who are aware of memory problems pose much less risk of developing dementia.

The study, believed to be the largest of its kind on illness awareness, had data on 1,062 people aged 55 to 90 from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). This included 191 people with Alzheimer's disease, 499 with mild cognitive impairment and 372 as part of the healthy comparison group.

The researchers also wanted to identify which parts of the brain were affected in impaired illness awareness. They examined the brain's uptake of glucose, a type of sugar. Brain cells need glucose to function, but glucose uptake is impaired in Alzheimer's disease.

Using PET brain scans, they showed that those with impaired illness awareness also had reduced glucose uptake in specific brain regions, even when accounting for other factors linked to reduced glucose uptake, such as age and degree of memory loss.

Lead study author Dr. Philip Gerretsen, Clinician Scientist in CAMH's Geriatric Division and Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute has heartening news for those of us fretting over memory slips. "If patients complain of memory problems, but their partner or caregiver isn't overly concerned, it's likely that the memory loss is due to other factors, possibly depression or anxiety.”  

"They can be reassured that they are unlikely to develop dementia, and the other causes of memory loss should be addressed."

The bigger concern is when the partner or caregiver is more likely to be distressed while patient doesn’t feel that they have any memory problems.   Lack of awareness of memory loss is called “anosognosia”.

To read the full story (and breathe a collective sigh of relief,) click here:

To a happy and brain health 2018!