Memory and cognitive skills may decline rapidly in the time leading up to Alzheimer's disease, a new study says.
According to a study published in the March 23 issue of Neurology, patients with mild cognitive impairment -- the stage before Alzheimer's disease when people have mild memory issues but no dementia symptoms -- may see rapid decline of cognitive ability before the disease is diagnosed, and even faster decline once dementia begins.
"These results show that we need to pay attention to this time before Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed, when people are just starting to have problems forgetting things," said study author Robert Wilson in a statement.
The study involved 1,158 Chicago residents with an average age of 79. Among them, 149 people had Alzheimer's disease, 395 had mild cognitive impairment and 614 had no such problems.
Researchers administered global cognition exams that tested the participants' memory and thinking skills, from the beginning of the study and again every three years. People took part in the study for an average of 5.5 years.
The results: on an annual basis, the thinking skills of those with mild cognitive impairment declined twice as fast as those who had no cognitive problems.
The skills of those with Alzheimer's disease declined four times as fast as those with no cognitive problems.
In an editorial that accompanied the study, David Knopman of the Rochester, Minn. Mayo Clinic wrote:
"The changes in rate of decline occur as the brain atrophies due to the disease, first mainly in the hippocampus during the initial symptomatic stage, referred to as mild cognitive impairment, then in the temporal, parietal and frontal cortex during the dementing illness phase of Alzheimer's disease."
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com