Forgetful? You Might Be Losing Brain Density

Can't remember where your keys are -- again?

You have plenty of company. Up to half of Americans over 60 have similar complaints, and some of those complaints might be signs of more serious memory problems down the road, according to a new study in this week's issue of the journal Neurology.

The study found that older adults who complain of memory problems but score normally on memory tests may indeed be losing brain density.

Scientists evaluated MRI brain scans from 120 adults older than 60. One-third of them had complaints about their memory, even though they performed OK on memory tests. The other people in the study either had no memory complaints, or suffered from mild cognitive impairment, which is a memory problem that doctors believe may be a precursor of Alzheimer's disease and similar ailments.

The researchers wanted to see if the adults who had started to complain about their memory but were otherwise healthy had changes in their brains. Would their brains look more like those of adults who had mild cognitive impairment or more like those of people with no memory problems?

As it turns out, MRIs showed that the adults with memory complaints had brains that appeared less dense, similar to the brains of people with mild cognitive impairment.

In other words, there were not as many connections between their brain cells as there were in those with the more memory-healthy brains. However, adults with mild cognitive impairment had significantly fewer connections than adults with memory complaints. So their brains were similar but not the same.

Also, the changes were located in some of the same parts of the brain that are affected by Alzheimer's disease. And the more a person complained of memory loss, the more his or her brain had changed.

So, memory complaints in older adults may be a sign that their brains are changing, which may eventually lead to more serious memory loss, the researchers concluded.

This warning might give doctors a chance to treat memory problems before they get much worse.

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