Memory loss may not always be the first sign of Alzheimer’s

Loss of memory is the symptom most commonly associated with Alzheimer's disease, but recent research suggests that for many people, particularly in the under 60s age group, it is symptoms other than those related to memory, such as difficulties with language and problem solving, visuospatial function, or impaired judgement, that are in fact the first signs that something is wrong.

Researchers from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London reviewed neurological test data from a large US sample of 8,000 Alzheimer's patients with mild to moderate dementia, ranging in age from 36 to 110. The aim was to investigate whether the early symptoms patients reported differed by age.

One in four of the people aged under 60, reported their main symptom(s) at diagnosis being something other than memory problems. This proportion declined with increasing age, with one in five in the 60s age group stating non-memory related symptoms as their main symptom, and only one in ten in the 70s age bracket.

“Non-memory first cognitive symptoms were more common in younger Alzheimer’s disease patients,” says lead study author Josephine Barnes.

Recognising the significance of non memory related symptoms is important, she explains, to ensure early signs of the disease are not missed. “Tests which explore and investigate these non-memory cognitive problems should be used so that non-memory deficits are not overlooked.”

The research is significant. Better understanding of how the early signs of Alzheimer's manifest should help improve rates of diagnosis at a much earlier stage of the disease. This would allow treatment to be started much sooner, and at a point where it is most effective.

Source: "Alzheimer's disease first symptoms are age dependent: Evidence from the NACC dataset"- Alzheimer's and Dementia online 24/4/15

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  • 29 June 2015