Changes in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease begin years before diagnosis, so it is crucial to have earlier detection of those at risk without waiting until cognitive decline is obvious.
Studies have looked at self-reported memory complaints as a potential predictor of later disease, but they have not found clear correlations between reported memory loss and tested memory decline and disease. In addition, most studies look at people aged over 60, yet the earliest brain changes can occur in midlife.
WHAP has been following women aged from 45 into their 70s, tracking and measuring lifestyle, psychosocial data and neuropsychological levels as well as reported memory complaints and confusion.
They also had their levels of brain B-amyloid in the brain measured because research studies have shown that healthy people with an elevated level of B-amyloid are at risk of cognitive decline.
Professor Cassandra Szoeke, Director of the Healthy Ageing Program, Department of Medicine, The University of Melbourne says participants were asked to assess how often they had felt confused and if they felt they had more problems with memory than most.
“We found that participants who self-reported incidents of confusion were more likely to have more B-amyloid protein on their brain scans,” she says.
"In our study, people worried about their memory did not have more clinical or pathological evidence of disease but those with reported confusion did," Prof Szoeke says.
“The clinical significance of memory complaints, particularly their indication of subsequent progression to dementia, has been controversial.”
While studies may show no relationship between reported concerns and memory testing or disease development over several years, Prof Szoeke says it is important to look 10 and 20 years down the track.
“Alzheimers Disease is a long game – it doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is, this gives us time to intervene – that’s why it is so important to identify those who should have greater monitoring and risk factor management to delay disease onset,” she says