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Video: Faint Memory Of The Past Can Be A Risk Factor For Serious Illness
Faint memory of the past can be a risk factor for serious illness
People with a genetic risk for Alzheimer's described their memories in much less detail than those who were not.
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Testing how well people remember past events in their lives can help predict the development of Alzheimer's, according to a new study from the University of Arizona.
The researchers tested the "autobiographical memory" of a group of 35 healthy adults, about half of whom carry the APOE e4 gene, which is known to be a genetic risk factor that doubles the chance of developing Alzheimer's disease. Those who were at this genetic risk described their memories in much less detail than those who were not.
“Alzheimer's disease is difficult to detect early on, even if the changes in the brain associated with the disease begin years or even decades before a person begins to develop memory problems,” says neuropsychologist Matthew Grilli, author of the new study published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.
This poses a big challenge for the development of effective treatments, he said. “We hope that in the near future we will have drugs and other therapies that have the potential to slow, stop, and even reverse some of the brain changes that we believe are signs of Alzheimer's. The problem is that if we cannot identify at an early stage who is developing these symptoms, the treatments may not work,”Grilli says.
Grilli's goal is to identify brain changes before they begin to have an obvious effect on cognitive abilities and memory.
He and his colleagues from the United States decided to focus their attention on autobiographical memory or memories of people from past events in their lives, because this type of memory depends on those areas of the brain that are vulnerable to early changes due to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
During autobiographical interviews, study participants, who were between 50 and 80 years old, were asked to recall recent events, their childhood and tell about their youth in as much detail as possible. The interviewers did not know which of the participants had a genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease. They simply wrote down and collected the responses of the participants, then evaluating who had vivid and detailed memories and who did not.
As it turned out, participants with a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease described their memories in much less vivid detail than those without such a risk factor.
“None of these people would be diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment. They are clinically normal people, they have normal cognitive abilities, but they have some difficulty retrieving their real memories. In our opinion, this is because some of them are in the pre-clinical stage of Alzheimer's disease,”says Grilli.
Not all people with the APOE e4 gene variant, which is present in about 25% of the population, will develop Alzheimer's disease, and not all people have the gene.
“Based on this study, we can not yet identify a specific person and say that he has a pre-clinical phase of Alzheimer's disease. This is the next stage of work that we have yet to complete. But we know that there are probably more e4 carriers in the group who are in the preclinical phase of Alzheimer's disease, and we believe this is why they have trouble remembering,”says Grilli.
Grilli said the next step would be to study brain activity in people who find it difficult to remember events in their lives in detail and in vivid colors. Thus, the researchers want to see if they have noticeable changes in the structure of the brain or in the process of activating areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease at an earlier stage.
The researchers hope that their work could lead to the development of a clinical test that is sensitive enough to preclinical brain changes in Alzheimer's disease. Such tests can be used to identify people who need more extensive testing for early signs of Alzheimer's.