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Memory Problems Often Not Present in Middle-Aged People with Alzheimer’s Disease

A new study suggests more than half of people who develop Alzheimer’s disease before the age of 60 are initially misdiagnosed as having other kinds of brain disease when they do not have memory problems. The research is published in the May 17, 2011, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, researchers reviewed the cases of 40 people from the Neurological Tissue Bank-University of Barcelona-Hospital Clínic-IDIBAPS in Barcelona, Spain, whose brains showed that they had Alzheimer’s disease in an autopsy. Researchers also reviewed information about the age at which the symptoms began and family history.

About 38 percent experienced initial symptoms other than memory problems.

The study found that one-third of people with confirmed early onset Alzheimer’s disease showed symptoms other than memory problems, such as behavior, vision or language problems and a decline in executive function, or the ability to carry out tasks. In people with atypical symptoms and no memory problems, 53 percent were incorrectly diagnosed when first seen by a doctor, compared to four percent of those who had memory problems. They were mainly diagnosed with other types of dementia. Of those with unusual initial symptoms, 47 percent were still incorrectly diagnosed at the time of their death.

“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, Hospital Clínic of Barcelona and the Institute of Biomedical Investigation August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), 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.”

The study was supported by a grant from the Hospital Clínic-Emili Letang.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 24,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit


Rachel L. Seroka | American Academy of Neurology
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