When Should You Get It? What Can It Show?


Even if you’ve made peace with growing older, the outward signs of aging — graying hair, spotty skin, achy joints — are unavoidable. Likewise for the changes in the parts of the body you don’t see, including the brain.

As early as your thirties and forties, the brain starts to shrink, including the part called the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory. Aging also causes communication between neurons (nerve cells) to be less effective, blood flow in the brain to decrease, and inflammation to increase.

With these changes, older adults might experience challenges in their thinking like difficulty recalling names or words, or decreased attention; both could just be signs of normal aging.

However, in some people, neurodegenerative changes take place in the brain that are not normal aging, even though they are more likely to occur at an older age. Certain processes in the brain cause the collection of toxic clumps of proteins called amyloid. Amyloid permits another toxic protein called tau to injure and kill neurons and cause true memory loss, including being unable to recall recent details, events, or conversations. This type of memory loss can be an early sign of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.


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