No Clue it's Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's memory problems not always present in early onset

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many people in their middle years worry that their forgetfulness may mean they're developing Alzheimer's disease. Just the opposite could be true. Not having memory lapses, doesn't mean you don't have Alzheimer's disease (AD).

New research found that about one-third of the people diagnosed with early onset AD did not have memory problems.

Instead, their symptoms included problems with behavior (irritability, anxiety or depression); vision (difficulty reading, judging distance); language (finding the right word or using words properly); decision making; planning and completing tasks.

"Memory problems are not always the first clues of early onset Alzheimer's disease."

"People who develop early onset Alzheimer's disease often experience these atypical symptoms rather than memory problems, which can make getting an accurate diagnosis difficult," said study author Albert Lladó, MD, PhD, with the Alzheimer's Disease and Other Cognitive Disorders Unit at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona and the Institute of Biomedical Investigation August Pi i Sunyer in Barcelona, Spain.

"Biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease and other disorders are needed for us to better recognize, diagnose and treat early onset Alzheimer's disease sooner to improve the quality of life of these patients."

In more than half the cases, people without memory problems were incorrectly diagnosed as having other brain diseases, usually other forms of dementia.

The research is published in the May 17, 2011, print issue of Neurology.

The Study

  • Cases of 40 people reviewed using brain tissue samples
  • Samples gathered from Neurological Tissue Bank-University of Barcelona-Hospital Clínic-IDIBAPS
  • Autopsies had confirmed these individuals had AD
  • Researchers had studied the age at which the symptoms began and family history
  • 53 percent were incorrectly diagnosed when first seen by a doctor, compared to four percent of those who had memory problems
  • People with no memory problems were diagnosed with other types of dementia
  • Of those with unusual initial symptoms, 47 percent were still incorrectly diagnosed at the time of their death
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 18, 2011
Last Updated:
May 19, 2011