ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – Men may be more vulnerable to failing memory than women, a new study finds.
The study reported that people’s memory skills and brain volume usually decline with age. The study also suggests that it has little to do with buildup of brain “plagues” that mark Alzheimer’s disease.
This study differs from a prevailing view on aging of the brain.
Most experts speculate that when adults get older and have memory lapses, it may be a sign of early Alzheimer’s disease. They also say it is linked to abnormal clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid that accumulates in the brain.
“But our findings suggest that memory actually declines in almost everybody, and well before there is any amyloid deposition in the brain,” Dr. Clifford Jack, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and lead researcher in this study, told HealthDay News.
Jack said that beta-amyloid deposits are still a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, but his findings shows that they do not start the disease, but instead come into play later on.
“There seems to be a profound effect of aging, itself, on memory – independent of amyloid,” Jack told HealthDay. “We think that amyloid pathology tends to arise late in life, to accelerate a pre-existing decline in memory.”
Jack says this is good news for people who are having memory lapses as they are getting older.
“The memory decline that people often experience as they get older is usually not an indicator of underlying Alzheimer’s pathology,” he told HealthDay. “So it in no way means you’re inevitably going to become demented.”
Other researchers concur.
“What this shows very clearly is that memory and brain volume are declining years before any amyloid is present,” Dr. Charles DeCarli, a professor of neurology at the University of California, Davis, said in an editorial published with the study.
The results in the study were based on over 1,200 adults from one county in Minnesota. The participants were between ages 30 and 95 with no sign of dementia. They took standard memory tests and underwent two types of brain scans: an MRI and PET. The MRI measured the volume of hippocampus, a part of the limbic system that plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory; and PET to look for amyloid buildup.
The researchers found that both memory and brain volume gradually declined from age 30 to the mid-60s, with only a few people having amyloid buildup at those ages. It wasn’t until around age 70 that a substantial buildup of amyloid was shown on PET scans.
The study showed that men had consistently worse memories than women.
Jack thinks this is possibly because men have a higher rate of cardiovascular risk factors. Cardiovascular risk factors have been linked to the development of memory problems.
Dementia is not more common in men than women.
Heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes can all factor into memory decline.
The study was published online in JAMA Neurology.