Mild memory loss is often an indicator of Alzheimer's disease and is connected to the same brain pathology. There has been a lot of controversy over the implications of mild cognitive decline the loss of memory and certain other aspects of mental function, like problem solving and planning.Some people think it is a normal part of aging, others that it is an early sign of Alzheimer's dementia, while there is also the view that it's a disease in its own right.
A new clue comes from the now-famous Nun Study, which is looking at 500 Sisters of Notre Dame. The Sisters agreed to have frequent physical and psychological exams and that their brains could be studied after death.
The current study focuses on 120 nuns and shows that those who had neurofibrillary tangles in their brains, after death, were more likely to have performed poorly on memory tests, without actually showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The tangles are generally seen as the hallmark of Alzheimer's. This suggests that mild cognitive impairment, especially of memory, is very early Alzheimer's disease. The finding may be useful in allowing doctors to prescribe drugs that hold back dementia before it develops fully. But the researchers stress that not all cases of mild cognitive impairment will turn into full-blown dementia. It may, in some cases, be a condition in its own right. But it should not be seen as a normal part of the aging process.