A new study suggests that old patients displaying signs of Alzheimer’s can still have sharp memories. A team of researchers has examined the gray matter of eight deceased 90-year-old individuals. One case, in particular, displayed signs of Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, by testing the cognitive functions post-mortem, the scientists were able to conclude that the patient had intact memories, similar in quality to those of individuals up to forty years younger.
The study’s conclusion revolved around the idea that some individuals may be spared from memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, according to Changiz Geula of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, it is yet unclear why the main symptom of Alzheimer’s does not affect some people. Professor Geula suspects that environmental or genetic factors come into play, protecting these patients from Alzheimer’s symptoms.
The individuals used in the study were originally part of a more elaborate piece, consisting of more than just eight subjects, on post-mortem cognitive functions. Each one has previously died of natural causes, around 90 years of age. Moreover, prior to the study, all of the participants agreed upon donating their brains to science.
A series of tests quickly followed once the study subjects passed away. Hence, the researchers were able to run several cognitive-function experiments and concluded that eight individuals had memories as vivid as those of healthy 50 or 60-year-old people.
When closely examining the brains of three patients, the scientists discovered clear signs of Alzheimer’s disease, like tangles or plaque. However, the hippocampus, the main area of the brain associated with storing memories, was intact. Furthermore, the nerve cells were acting normal rather than displaying any signs of the disease.
Professor Changiz Geula says that in cases where a patient suffers from Alzheimer’s and plaque is visible in the brain, the nerve cells count is drastically reduced. As much promising as this study seems, there are still many questions left without answers. Professor Geula thinks that there are more factors that keep the memories intact, apart from the nerve cells numbers in the hippocampus. Hence, the team does not rule out the possibility that a wide range of other genetic factors helps protect human memories.
Because this study proved highly successful, the team of researchers led by Professor Changiz Geula is now looking to perform more tests on the matter in the future. However, in order to confirm the new findings and support the claims with even more conclusive pieces of evidence, Professor Geula will need larger samples.
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