Self-reported memory issues could be early sign of Alzheimer's disease

Memory care experts often tout the importance of early detection of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Identifying the condition allows patients and doctors to take necessary action early. Yet despite the focus on recognizing early symptoms, all too often they can go overlooked by those in the medical community, The New York Times reports.

The trouble arises from the fact that very frequently, adults who report memory issues do not show any significant outward signs. Essentially, they are experiencing changes to their brain that only they can recognize. At a recent Alzheimer's Association conference in Boston, researchers presented findings that could shift how medical experts view the earliest signs of the disease. Self-reported memory problems, known as subjective cognitive decline, could be indicative of high levels of amyloid protein - a hallmark of Alzheimer's. 

"The whole field now is moving to this area, and saying 'Hey, maybe there is something to this, and maybe we should pay attention to these people,'" Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, chairman of the advisory panel to the federal government's new National Alzheimer's Project, told the Times.

While the increased recognition of subjective cognitive decline is a positive step forward, there remain considerable challenges associated with early detection. Specifically, it can often be difficult for seniors themselves to determine which changes to memory are a normal part of growing older and which may be a threat to healthy aging. The Alzheimer's Association notes that memory lapses that interfere with activities of daily life, feelings of confusion and problems with speech are typically signs something is wrong.

Early detection could have a substantial impact on how Alzheimer's affects the senior population in coming years. The World Health Organization estimates the number of dementia cases around the globe might triple to 115.4 million by 2050.