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All Memory Loss Due to Brain Abnormalities

A new study claims that mild to moderate memory loss, or mental decline, in adulthood can be attributed to abnormal brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s.  In other words, a decrease in mental acuity may not be a result of mere aging.

The research was led by Robert S. Wilson, senior neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Center at Rush University Medical Center. The 16 year study focused on a group of 354 catholic nuns, priests and brothers; over the course of the study, the participants were regularly checked for mental acuity up to 14 times before they died.

Specifically, they were checked in the following areas:  verbal fluency, perceptual speed and IQ.  Additional three “types” of memory were assessed:

*Semantic memory, which is defined as stored information
*Episodic memory, which refers to the ability to recall one’s personal past
*Working memory, or an ability to retain information for the purpose of learning,

Those who had demonstrated mild to moderate memory loss were found to have Lewy bodies and neurofibrillary tangles, both of which are known markers for Alzheimer’s, and evidence of stroke; the lesions were found postmortem, during autopsy.

Although initially the discovery of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s in those with mild and moderate memory loss is a bit disconcerting, Wilson intimates that their presence need not be so alarming.  According to HealthDay, he states "One way of thinking about these declines is that perhaps the neurofibrillary tangles and Lewy bodies found in the brain are part of a dynamic function that only impairs function when it damages a neuron.”

He also emphasizes that mental decline can be thwarted through certain lifestyle factors, such as maintaining an active social life, pursuing intellectual hobbies, and drinking alcohol in moderation.  Additionally, he states that higher levels of education are also associated with a reduced risk of dementia. 

Wilson tells the Senior Journal that what all of this translates into is that all forms of mental decline are the result of pathologic lesions:  “Our study finds that Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are the root cause of virtually all loss of cognition and memory in old age.”

Wilson’s study, which is referred to as Rush’s Religious Orders Study, confirmed earlier research which shows that the progression of Alzheimer’s is primarily gradual until the last 4-5 years of life, at which point mental decline accelerates.

Food Consumer recently reported on a previous study conducted by Wilson in which it was discovered that stimulating activity can, indeed, slow down the onset of some of the symptoms of dementia, but when they do appear on the horizon, the process speeds up more among those who have remained intellectually active.
 
Again, Wilson emphasized the positive of his team’s findings, saying that the time the intellectually active have to live with the debilitating effects of the disease is compressed, so that less time is “wasted” to the disease.

Details of the Religious Orders Study are currently being published in the journal Neurology.