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Despite decades of research, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 5 million people in the U.S., remains elusive. Some researchers believe spotting signs and symptoms early may be the key to finding a cure, as well as improved treatment for current Alzheimer’s patients.
New research led by BWH’s Rebecca Amariglio, PhD, of the Department of Neurology, found that changes people observe in their own memory—called “subjective concerns”—may be the best way to identify early signs of the disease.
“A person’s own awareness that his or her memory is worsening may be related to early brain changes from Alzheimer’s disease,” said Amariglio. “Years before a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, the individual may be the best judge that his or her memory isn’t what it used to be.”
The research, which was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last month in Boston, involved nearly 200 participants, who had no clinical signs of impaired cognition but had concerns about their memory. Using PET scans and questionnaires, researchers found that participants who had the highest levels of beta amyloid protein in their brain, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, were also the participants who had the greatest subjective concerns about their memory.
“It is very important to distinguish between lapses of attention, which are normal, and memory loss,” said Amariglio. “Lapses of attention include walking into a room and forgetting why you walked in, likely a part of normal aging. Memory loss is categorized as a decline in the ability to recall conversations, remember appointments or remember recent events.”