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Originally published December 13 2010

Memory loss is not a normal part of aging

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Memory loss is always a sign of disease or injury, and should never be attributed to the natural course of aging, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and published in the journal Neurology.

Researchers followed 350 catholic nuns, priests and brothers for 13 years, giving them memory tests every year and then examining their brains after death.

Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, cannot be conclusively diagnosed without dissecting the brain and examining it for tangles of a toxic protein known as tau. In addition to searching the participants' brains for tau, researchers also looked for Lewy bodies, an abnormal protein implicated in a form of dementia called Lewy body disease, and for evidence of prior strokes.

Neither tau, Lewy bodies or signs of stroke were found in the brains of participants who had died without experiencing memory loss.

"It appears these brain lesions have a much greater impact on memory function in old age than we previously thought," researcher Robert S. Wilson said. "Our results challenge the concept of normal memory aging and hint at the possibility that these lesions play a role in virtually all late-life memory loss."

Patients who had suffered from memory problems tended to develop them slowly, with a rapid worsening in the last five years of life. Because experts believe that dementia develops long before symptoms manifest, the researchers believe that these participants suffered from early-stage, undiagnosed dementia.

"What we're saying is the brain changes that are mainly responsible for Alzheimer's and other dementias also seem to be mainly responsible for very mild early changes in memory and thinking," Wilson said.

"We don't think that just because you are old, a problem in thinking and memory is normal and should be ignored. We think it's an actual sign of disease."

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