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Age-, Disease-Related Dementia Have Same Pathology

Last Updated: September 16, 2010.

Age-related and disease-related dementia are associated with the same types of neuropathologic changes in the brain, according to research published online Sept. 15 in Neurology.

THURSDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Age-related and disease-related dementia are associated with the same types of neuropathologic changes in the brain, according to research published online Sept. 15 in Neurology.

Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues conducted a study of 354 Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers over a 13-year period, evaluating them with annual tests of cognitive function. After death, autopsies were performed and brain tissue was examined for signs of neuropathology traditionally associated with dementia.

The researchers found that neurofibrillary tangles, cerebral infarction, and neocortical Lewy bodies were seen in those who had gradual age-related cognitive decline; those without these autopsy findings had little age-related decline. Rapid, disease-related declines in cognitive function were also associated with the presence of neurofibrillary tangles and neocortical Lewy bodies, although some participants with large cognitive declines did not have these findings, suggesting the involvement of other pathologic factors.

"Gradual cognitive decline in old age has mainly been thought to reflect normative age-related developmental processes," the authors write. "In this cohort, however, there was no age-related cognitive decline absent postmortem evidence of neurodegenerative disease, and multiple pathologic lesions were associated with rate of age-related cognitive decline. These data challenge the concept of normative cognitive aging and suggest instead that neurodegenerative disease plays a role in virtually all late-life cognitive decline."

Two of the authors have served as consultants to biopharmaceutical companies, including Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc., Schering-Plough Corp., and Medivation Inc.

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