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Alzheimer's disease not always linked to memory loss symptoms, study finds

May 16, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Patient brain scans are shown at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at UC Davis School of Medicine.
Patient brain scans are shown at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at… (Katja Heinemann / HBO )

People who develop Alzheimer's disease in middle age might be at risk of getting misdiagnosed, according to a new study published online Monday in the journal Neurology. That's because many patients' first symptoms don't include the memory loss associated with the degenerative disease.

Researchers in Barcelona, Spain, looked at the brain tissues of 40 people who had suffered from early-onset Alzheimer's disease — a form of the degenerative disorder that can begin to affect patients well before they've reached their golden years. They found that 15 of them didn't appear to show the typical signs of memory loss. Some had visual problems, others had issues with language, and still others showed strange behavioral disturbances. Of these patients, fully 53% of them were misdiagnosed at first — and 47% of them were still misdiagnosed by the time they died. Compare that with the 25 patients who suffered from the typical memory loss: only 4% of them (just one patient) were misdiagnosed at first.

For all patients with early-onset Alzheimer's, regardless of their symptoms, there was a delay in diagnosis of more than three years. This, the researchers write, might be because a patient's family members and physicians don't expect dementia to be a problem for someone so young, relatively speaking.

"[Alzheimer's disease] is a common cause of early-onset dementia and should always be considered as an alternative diagnosis," the authors write.  

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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