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Alzheimer's disease probably more common than currently recognized

July 09, 2000

According to study presented at Alzheimer's meeting

A presentation at the World Alzheimer Congress 2000 today suggests that decline in memory in older persons is frequently due to Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology. Current estimates put the number of people with AD in the United States at 4 million people, but the study suggests that the actual number may be much larger.

Dr. David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Research Center at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, examined the rate of change in memory function over six years in nearly 750 older nuns, priests and brothers participating in the Religious Orders Study, a longitudinal clinical-pathologic study of aging and AD. In addition, Bennett measured the amount of Alzheimer's disease pathology in the first 100 participants who had a brain autopsy.

According to Bennett, the research examined the extent to which people with mild cognitive impairment are really expressing the earliest manifestations of the pathology of Alzheimer's disease -- as opposed to having mild cognitive impairment from some other cause.

Persons with mild cognitive impairment declined much faster on memory tests than persons with no cognitive impairment. Furthermore, Alzheimer's disease pathology was already present to a large degree in persons who died with mild cognitive impairment.

Because there is no consensus on how to diagnose mild cognitive impairment, Bennett and colleagues also examined the relation of Alzheimer's disease pathology to memory function just before death and to rates of change in memory over the several years prior to death. Alzheimer's disease pathology was related to both. Overall, the data suggest that many people with mild memory problems who do not meet conventional criteria for dementia are exhibiting the pathology of Alzheimer's disease.

"Often, these people are not diagnosed with Alzheimer's or told that their mild memory loss is part of normal aging," he said. Bennett stressed that this research could have significant public health implications. The way we fund research and patient care in this country is based, in part, on our ability to track, the numbers of people with this disease.

These data suggest that the magnitude of the public health problem posed by Alzheimer's disease may be even larger than commonly recognized and that increased funding for clinical care and research is needed to effectively combat this disease.
-end-
Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center includes the 809-bed Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital; 154-bed Johnston R. Bowman Health Center for the Elderly; Rush University (Rush Medical College, College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences and Graduate College); and seven Rush Institutes providing diagnosis, treatment and research into leading health problems. The medical center is the tertiary hub of the Rush System for Health, a comprehensive healthcare system capable of serving about two million people through its outpatient facilities and five member hospitals.




Royal Society of Chemistry

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