Alzheimer’s Decline More Dramatic in ‘Young Old’

Research suggests that despite the risk of Alzheimer’s increasing with age, those in their 60s and 70s show faster rates of decline than people who develop the disease at an older age. The study is published online on 2 August in the journal PLoS ONE.

While developing the disease is not an inevitability, age is the biggest known risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s, and almost half of people over the age of 85 developing the disease. Scientists believe that as our bodies change with age, we may become more susceptible to the triggers of the disease. While this would suggest that those who developed the disease at a very old age would be hardest hit, researchers from the US have presented findings suggesting that the ‘youngest old’ may decline the fastest.

The team from the University of California followed 723 people between the ages of 65 to 90 years for up to three years. The volunteers were either cognitively healthy, had Alzheimer’s disease, or had mild cognitive impairment – a state of memory and thinking problems not severe enough to be classed as dementia. The scientists used MRI brain scans to look for changes in the volunteers’ brains over time, and used a spinal tap to measure levels of markers of the Alzheimer’s in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Memory and thinking skills were also measured using cognitive tests.

The team found that older people with Alzheimer’s showed a slower rate of decline than younger people with the disease. The study showed that those with Alzheimer’s disease over the age of 80 had less change on their brain scans over time, slower decline in performance on cognitive tests, and less evidence of disease in their CSF compared to those of a younger age.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These findings challenge the misconception that Alzheimer’s and dementia is only a problem for much older people, suggesting it may be more aggressive in people in their 60s and 70s. The results highlight the importance of helping younger people with Alzheimer’s to access clinical trials, as new drugs could have a big impact on their lives.

“With more people reaching retirement age, it is important to understand how Alzheimer’s affects people of different ages. Understanding why very elderly people with Alzheimer’s are less likely to feel its full force could provide new clues for preventing or slowing the disease. To answer these questions, we must invest in research.”

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