Nightly News   |  July 17, 2013

Memory loss worries may indicate Alzheimer’s risk

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston asked 200 healthy volunteers to report concerns about their own memory and then received a brain scan looking for buildup of amyloid plaque, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Those most anxious about their memory also had the highest levels of plaque. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back, as promised with a special look tonight at the warning signs for alzheimer 's, what to worry about and whatnot to worry about, what's normal brain behavior and forgetfulness and what should raise a flag. doctors now know more about the difference and they are better able to start treatment. our report from our chief medical editor, dr. nancy snyderman .

>> make this design for me.

>> reporter: at the mayo clinic rochester, minnesota, 63-year-old architect david cane is healthy and volunteering in a study that could help find a treatment for alzheimer 's.

>> begin.

>> reporter: by target the disease at its earliest stages.

>> we give medications to people, improve their memory a little bit, improves their social interabilities a bit, but it really doesn't alter the long-term outcome of the disease.

>> reporter: to figure out what's an early warning sign for alzheimer 's versus normal memory loss , researchers at brigham women's hospital asked 200 healthy volunteers, ages 65 to 87, to report concerns about their own memory. each also got a brain scan , looking for buildup of amyloid plaque, a protein deposit associated with alzheimer 's disease it turns out those who were most ago shs about their memory also had the highest levels of plank, meaning people can likely sense when something is going wrong. doctors are exploring this possible connection by tracking the group to see if any get the disease.

>> the implication of the few findings is that it will help to inform drug trials that are just getting under way.

>> reporter: back in minnesota, david and his wife, linda, think their occasional forgetfulness isn't a big deal .

>> he doesn't remember the family birthdays or anniversaries.

>> i don't remember names i as well as i did at one time.

>> reporter: doctors say that type of memory loss is normal. so when should you be concerned? here are the warning signs . for instance, getting lost in familiar surroundings, having trouble remembering important details from recent events, and difficulty recalling or following the plot of a tv program or book. the term is called subjective cognitive decline, that belief you know something is wrong. it's not misplacing these and wondering where the car keys are but what do they go to? not to alarm anyone tonight, but if you see a repetitive pattern that is the time to alert your physician because early recognition can be early entry into testing, brian and a lot of promising drugs out there.

>> what about the conversations that happen between couples all over this day every day where you say, you know, the movie with the guy who was in it with the blonde girlfriend and she was -- and people just go tangentially. is the standard, if it alarms you or your loved ones, it's probably an alarming sign?

>> a normal part of that where you can't remember people's names and you can't put things together, but if you start to see a daily pattern, there's this disruption in life, deep down inside, what this study shows is if it starts to bother you, that's when you have the conversation. and i've talked to a lot of people said, well, i don't want to know the answer is, yes, you do want to know, because if you can make a difference by early drugs, you want access to those. and even more important, you want to get affairs in order. you want to make sure your legal and your financial and your medical house is in order. i don't believe in putting your head in the sand and saying, oh, well, it's not good for me. knowing, there's a lot of power in that

>> all of it very helpful stuff. nancy, thank you.

>> you bet, brian.