Unawareness of Memory Loss a Precursor of Dementia

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People who eventually develop dementia can exhibit unawareness of memory loss as much as three years before the neurocognitive disorder is diagnosed.

Robert Wilson, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues looked at 2,092 participants from three longitudinal studies who did not have any cognitive impairment at the study outset. Annually for more than 10 years, the subjects were tested to evaluate their memory and thinking.

However, memory awareness declined severely an average of 2.6 years prior to the onset of dementia, the researchers reported in the journal Neurology. After this point, several years of memory decline occurred.

The researchers also examined the brains of 385 participants who died during the study. They were looked at for seven different changes often seen in brains of dementia patients.  Three of the changes were associated with a rapid decline in memory loss awareness: accumulation of tau protein (tau tangles); areas of brain damage (infarcts), and changes in the transactive response DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) pathology.

“Although there were individual differences in when the unawareness started and how fast it progressed, virtually everyone had a lack of awareness of their memory problems at some point in the disease,” Wilson said in a statement.

Unawareness of Memory Loss a Precursor of Dementia
Memory awareness declined an average of 2.6 years prior to onset of dementia in study.

New research indicates that people who go on to develop dementia can start losing awareness of their memory problems up to 3 years before the condition arises.

The study, published in Neurology, also identifies that a number of changes in the brain related to dementia are associated with a decline in memory awareness.

Dementia is a collective term to describe a group of symptoms severely affecting cognitive functioning. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease; according to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, with 5.3 million Americans of all ages estimated to have the condition.

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