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Health Information Memory Complaints Linked to Alzheimer-Related Brain Problems

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center found that having complaints about memory problems is associated with changes in the brain related to Alzheimer's disease. They reported their findings in the November 2006 issue of Neurology.

"One of the most interesting findings of the study was that individuals who had yet to have any clinical symptoms of Alzheimer's disease still showed a strong link between their self-reported memory complaints and brain pathology associated with Alzheimer's disease," says Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, from the Rush Alzheimers Disease Center. "This information may allow us to use memory complaints as a measure to intervene at an early point in the disease process."

To measure memory complaints the study participants were asked two questions:
 

  • How often do you have trouble remembering things?
  • How is your memory [now] compared to 10 years ago?

The researchers found that each unit of Alzheimer-related pathology was associated with one point higher score on the memory complaint scale. "Our results suggest that older persons with and without dementia possess some insight to their level of functioning, and this insight is related to actual changes in the brain," says Barnes. "The data suggests that if youre having complaints, there's probably something going on. In other words, if mom notices that theres something different about her memory, we need to listen closely and investigate further."

The study shows that memory complaints should be taken seriously and not seen as just part of the aging process. "In my opinion, it is possible to preserve your memory into old age," says Barnes. "Memory loss is not an inevitable consequence of aging."

In fact, if you think you are having memory problems, you should probably see your doctor. As Barnes notes, although not all memory complaints will lead to Alzheimer's disease, our data support the idea that memory complaints in older adults may represent the presence of significant Alzheimer's disease pathology in the brain.

"I don't want to cause concern for people who experience occasional memory loss, like losing their keys or forgetting their wifes birthday," says Barnes. "The important point in our study was that the people who hadn't developed Alzheimer's disease by the time they died, but complained about their memory performance, already had Alzheimer's pathology in their brains. We don't know whether they might have eventually developed the disease had they lived longer. The data suggest, however, that memory complaints may be an early sign of disease in some people."

The researchers at Rush are grateful for the remarkable dedication and altruism of the volunteers participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project. The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging, which leads the Federal effort to support and conduct basic, clinical, and social and behavioral studies on aging and on Alzheimer's disease.


More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For information on medical research initiatives for older adults with memory problems, visit the Rush Alzheimers Disease Center home page.
  • For information on medical services for older adults, visit the Geriatric Services home page. Or call (800) 757-0202.
  • To learn more about our a free health and aging membership program for older adults and the people who care for them, visit the Rush Generations home page. Or call (800) 757-0202. Rush Generations can help you with your goals for vital, healthy living.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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Memory Complaints Linked to Alzheimer-Related Brain Problems

   
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