If you or a loved one experiences these subtle but possibly serious symptoms of memory loss, confusion, sleeplessness, and trouble focusing, talk to a doctor.
Why early detection matters
With grim prognoses and very limited treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, early detection hasn’t been particularly advantageous. But that may be changing—fast. One of the hottest areas of Alzheimer’s research involves treating people with early signs of Alzheimer’s with drugs that decrease the production of amyloid beta (proteins that bunch together to form damaging plaques in the brain). Experts believe that people begin to develop amyloid plaques in their brains at least 10 years before they develop any obvious Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Reisa Sperling, MD, director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is leading a new clinical trial, called the A4 study, which will evaluate patients with evidence of Alzheimer’s damage in the brain but who still have normal thinking and memory function. The trial will randomly assign groups to receive medication, and researchers will determine over three years whether the drugs affected the patients’ memory or levels of amyloid. “When a person already has a lot of memory trouble, they already have significant neuron loss,” says Dr. Sperling. “We need to find and treat people much earlier.” Watch out for these early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Worrying about your memory
Memory issues are one of the more well-known Alzheimer’s symptoms. And a number of studies presented at an Alzheimer’s Association conference last year found that people who were concerned about their own memory and thinking were in fact more likely to have signs of Alzheimer’s plaques in their brain, and develop dementia symptoms later. “People should trust what they observe about themselves,” Rebecca Amariglio, PhD, a Harvard neuropsychologist, told USA Today. It’s common with a number of health conditions—including arthritis and Parkinson’s disease—for people to feel something isn’t right before others observe it, Frank Jessen, a researcher at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, told the New York Times. Here are 6 signs your family member’s forgetfulness is actually Alzheimer’s.
Spotty recollection of recent important events
Forgetting a key conversation with a family member or a big news story from earlier in the week (like a natural disaster such as a hurricane) is concerning—especially if people can’t remember they forgot it. “If you remember that you forgot something, like your keys, that means your brain is still trying to access that information,” says Dr. Sperling. Not being able to remember the name of an actor in a movie—but recalling it later that night or the next day—is probably not a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.