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Early Memory Problems in Alzheimer’s Linked to Higher Tau in Brain


A new study, published May 29 in Neurology, sampled neurologically healthy older adults without measurable cognitive impairments, but who were concerned about the function of their memory. The researchers looked for links between memory loss and signs of Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered that people who self-reported memory loss were more likely to have elevated levels of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. If further research backs up this discovery, it could help doctors catch the condition at an earlier state. This would allow treatment to begin earlier.

The study 

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School sampled 675 older adults who had an average age of 72. Participants took cognitive tests which established that they had no current cognitive impairments. Each of the sample recruits had a partner. This partner could be a child, spouse, or friend. 65% of these partners lived with the participant.

The participants were asked to answer questions about their memory and thinking skills and how well they performed daily tasks. Their partners were also asked to answer the same questions. These questions included:

  • Compared to one year ago, do you feel your memory has declined substantially?
  • Compared to one year ago, do you have more difficulty managing money?

Brain scans can reveal early signs of Alzheimer’s 

After being asked those questions, each participant underwent a brain scan to look for protein markers of Alzheimer’s disease. These are known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Amyloid plaques constitute protein buildup between neurons. Tau tangles are protein buildup within neurons. Protein buildup in either area can limit the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Ultimately, this leads to cell death for the neurons. As more cells die, the lower an individual’s cognitive ability gets. This causes the brain to shrink and atrophy. The presence of these proteins interferes with the formation of memories at both the biochemical and structural levels by disrupting the physical integrity of the neural networks.

The study uncovered that 60% of the participants had elevated levels of amyloid in the brain. Those with higher levels of amyloid are also more likely to have elevated levels of tau. The brain scans revealed that those with self-reported memory issues also had higher levels of tau.

Why is the study significant? 

Basically, all of the individuals in the study were able to pass cognitive tests. This would end up clearing them for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. However, they self-reported memory problems. In other words, the brain can pick up on problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease faster than our cognitive testing does.

This could help doctors treat Alzheimer’s earlier. It may help slow the progression of the disease and lead to new treatments that prevent the worst symptoms.

Talk to a Virginia Beach Estate Planning Attorney Today 

The Law Office of Angela N. Manz helps those with progressive illness maintain their estates and ensure access to resources as their health declines. Call our Virginia Beach estate planning lawyers today to schedule an appointment, and we can begin discussing your best moves immediately.



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