New Study Suggests Memory Lapses May Precede Alzheimer’s

Early signs of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Doctors and the media often brush off memory loss in people in their forties and fifties as a normal sign of aging and nothing to worry about. But new research suggests that even the occasional lapse in memory could be a cause for concern and a very early warning sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Doctors call this Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or Amnestic MCI (aMCI) when no other symptoms of dementia are present, and it could be a predecessor to dementia.

Before you start pricing out assisted living and memory care retirement homes, though, let’s take a closer look at the study. Let’s also explore what constitutes a true memory lapse that could be cause for concern, and what are simply signs of everyday life, normal aging, or being stressed out, overworked, overtired… or even extreme cell phone use.

Do You Remember Later?
If you’re wondering if your memory lapse is simply a “senior moment” or an early sign of Alzheimer’s, take note of whether or not you remember later. If you forget a fact, word, or detail temporarily, but recall it later, it’s probably not a sign of dementia. Even if you don’t remember, but someone reminds you and you recognize their response as correct, it’s also probably not a cause for concern. People showing the early signs of dementia are unlikely to remember something even after they are reminded.

Here are some examples of memory loss signs that are not cause for concern:

  • You lose your keys but eventually find them when you remember where you placed them.
  • You’ve always been bad with names and, at a dinner party, you forget the name of someone you met a month ago or were introduced to earlier in the evening.
  • You forget a fact from long ago, such as where you lived at a given time or your position at a particular job, but when someone reminds you, the memory comes back to you.

If you remember something later on, or at least experience recognition when someone reminds you of a fact you’ve forgotten, this is typical memory loss (sometimes called a “senior moment”) and is not cause for concern, say researchers.

The Memory Loss Studies
In the study of 34 Mayo Clinic volunteers, more than 70 percent who died from Alzheimer’s Disease also had amnestic MCI, which ultimately led to Alzheimer’s and death. The other 30 percent had dementia caused by other factors.

The study is not nearly large enough to determine a definite causal relationship, but the evidence is compelling that aMCI could lead to Alzheimer’s or be a predecessor of the deadly disease.

Smartphone Related Memory Loss
Researchers have recently also discovered another memory disorder, termed “digital dementia.” Found in heavy cell phone users, this memory loss relates to people unable to remember phone numbers, appointments and other information because of heavy reliance on technology.

In children, the phenomenon is especially disturbing. The right side of the brain, responsible for concentration, does not develop at the same rate in children who are frequent cell phone users. This affects attention span and memory and may lead to early onset dementia, although not enough research has been done to prove this.

There’s good news, though, too. Older people are finding memory games and other skills they can practice on their smartphone as a way to stay sharp. For seniors, even learning the new technology is a good skill to keep their brain active.

As scientists learn more about how memories work, and study the effect of our environment on our cognitive function, they gain more information to potentially find a way to slow the affects or even reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

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