Cleveland Clinic Study Finds Initial Memory Problems Are Linked With a Slower Rate of Decline in Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Findings can help doctors better diagnose, prepare and treat patients, says expert who led the global health system’s research
April 25, 2023, CLEVELAND: New research from global health system Cleveland Clinic has found that initial memory problems are linked with a slower rate of decline in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Dementia develops when infections or diseases impact the parts of the brain involved with learning, memory, decision-making or language. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and is a progressive brain condition that eventually affects a person’s ability to carry out basic daily activities. Some researchers believe the process leading to Alzheimer’s may start 10 years or more before the first symptoms appear.
“What we found in our new study was that people with early memory symptoms alone, compared to people with, say, only early language problems or visual-spatial problems, tend to have a slightly slower disease progression in terms of their functional abilities,” says study lead author and Cleveland Clinic neurologist Jagan Pillai, MD, PhD.
Dr. Pillai says individuals with language problems, spatial ability and judgment issues seemed to be affected more over a period of time – specifically in their daily functional abilities.
One reason for this, Dr. Pillai suggests, could be that a person with only memory difficulties can find other ways to compensate, such as keeping track of what they’re doing by recording themselves or writing down notes, which allows them to remain functional.
Dr. Pillai also notes that memory difficulties come from a different part of the brain than language problems, for example, so the way the disease progresses could be different.
“The portion of the brain that is first impacted by the disease tends to determine the symptoms that go along with the disease and also the kind of progression from there to other regions,” explains Dr. Pillai.
“Having this information available can help physicians better diagnose patients and prepare them for the future. It can also be useful for researchers when it comes to testing different medications to treat Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Pillai concluded.
According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people currently have dementia worldwide, and every year there are nearly 10 million new cases. It is the seventh leading cause of death and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally. The healthy body estimates that Alzheimer’s disease may contribute to 60–70% of these cases.
About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 72,500 employees worldwide are more than 5,050 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,800 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 22 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2021, there were 10.2 million total outpatient visits, 304,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 259,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.