Cognitive Complaints May Be Early Sign of Brain Atrophy

Decreased gray matter density seen in otherwise normal older adults who voice such complaints

TUESDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who report memory problems or other cognitive complaints may have underlying neurodegenerative changes despite normal neuropsychological test performance, according to a study published in the Sept. 12 issue of Neurology.

Andrew Saykin, Psy.D., of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H., and colleagues conducted structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in 120 adults over age 60, including 40 euthymic subjects with cognitive complaints and normal neuropsychological test performance, 40 subjects with amnestic mild cognitive impairment and 40 healthy controls.

The researchers found similar patterns of decreased gray matter density in the group with cognitive complaints (3 percent) and the mild cognitive impairment group (4 percent) compared to the control group. There were differences in the medial temporal lobe, frontotemporal, and other neocortical regions. They also found that the degree of gray matter loss was associated with the extent of memory complaints and performance deficits. After adjusting for age and intracranial volume, they found significant reductions of manually segmented hippocampal volumes only in the mild cognitive impairment group and intermediate reductions in the cognitive complaint group.

"The cognitive complaint group may represent a pre-mild cognitive impairment stage and may provide an earlier therapeutic opportunity than mild cognitive impairment," the authors concluded. "MRI analysis approaches incorporating signal intensity may have greater sensitivity in early preclinical stages than volumetric methods."

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