Forgetfulness Is No Laughing Matter

People Aware of Memory Loss Lose Brain Function Later

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 27, 2002 -- Find yourself joking about losing your keys or forgetting where you parked the car? Those little slips may be no laughing matter. A new study suggests that if you think you're losing your memory, you probably will.

Researchers found people over 50 who are aware that they're becoming more forgetful and absent-minded with age were more likely to show a decline in brain function years later.

"We found that several subjective measures, including perceived change in memory ability and frequency of using memory aids -- such as lists and reminders -- predicted a decline in brain function two years later," says researcher Gary Small, MD, director of the Center on Aging at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a news release.

The study was to be presented at the First Annual Dementia Congress in Chicago this weekend.

Researchers studied 39 adults over the age of 50 who had mild age-related memory complaints and tested them on memory performance. They also asked them how well they thought their memory worked. Each of the participants had a brain scan with positron emission tomography (PET) to measure brain activity at the start of the study and two years later.

The study found people who were aware of their memory loss had a significantly greater decline in activity in one of the key memory centers of the brain (the hippocampus) compared to those who had only minimal memory complaints. Previous research has suggested that decreased brain function in this region can predict future memory decline; it also confirms a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

Small says self-awareness of memory decline predicted the level of brain activity decline in all patients, regardless of their genetic risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

"The findings suggest that self-awareness of memory ability may be an important factor to consider in assessing mild objective memory losses," says Small.

Researchers say learning more about these mild memory lapses may provide clues about how Alzheimer's develops in its early stages and help identify patients for early treatment to prevent further brain damage. -->