Pati Hoffman, of Carol Stream, Ill., near Chicago, used to design menus and organize events for restaurants but began forgetting where she filed things in her computer.
"I really just kind of started struggling. Something wasn't right. I would have to bring my work home, spread it all over the floor, sort it and then try to get it done so that nobody at work would know I was having this difficulty," she said. Driving to familiar places, "I would think, 'I know where I am, but I don't know how to get out of here.'"
Two neurologists said it was just stress and anxiety, and one prescribed an antidepressant. A third finally diagnosed her with early-onset Alzheimer's disease four years ago. She was 56.
The new studies were on "subjective cognitive decline" — when people first notice they are having trouble, even if they test normal on mental ability tests:
— Richard Kryscio at the University of Kentucky led a study of 531 people, average age 73. Those who reported a change in memory or thinking abilities since their last doctor visit were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment about six to nine years later.
— Researchers from the French government's health agency and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston studied 3,861 nurses at least 70 years old who were asked about memory symptoms and periodically tested for them later. About 900 of them carried a gene that raises their risk for dementia. Among the gene carriers, worry about a single memory symptom predicted verbal memory decline on tests over the next six years. In the others without the gene, worry about three or more memory symptoms was linked to memory decline on tests.
— Rebecca Amariglio and other Harvard researchers found that complaints about memory decline matched how much sticky plaque researchers saw on brain scans of 189 people 65 and older. This confirms an earlier study of 131 people that tied memory complaints to these brain plaques, the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.