Recent research is confirming that Alzheimer's is actually not a disease of old age - changes in the brain leading to memory loss and other problems begins when adults hit their 40s and 50s. Now scientists may have found one cause of Alzheimer's, particularly in women. Health Reporter Erin Billups explains.
Every six months Karen Segal goes to Weill Cornell Medicine's Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic to undergo cognitive tests, brain scans and have her exercise and diet routines analyzed.
She wants to help find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease - her mother's had it for 17 years, and her mother's father had it, too.
So she's participating in a study exploring whether Alzheimer's can be prevented and to determine why twice as many women are diagnosed with it than men.
"If I don't do this and I don't encourage my friends to do this, how are we ever going to find a treatment or a cure? Is it menopause that's causing Alzheimer’s or is it just the natural aging process?" Segal said.
By studying brain scans of 43 middle-aged women, including Segal's, Dr. Lisa Mosconi has discovered a possible connection between menopause and Alzheimer's.
"If you’re 40, 45, 50, you want your brain to be active on the scan. Instead, what we saw was that women who were in the perimenopausal and postmenopausal stages showed reductions in their brain energy levels as compared to men of the same age," said Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Mosconi suspects the loss of estrogen during menopause is a factor that leaves the brain more vulnerable to aging and Alzheimer's.
"The brain uses sugar, specifically glucose for energy. And estrogen is involved in the way that the brain burns the glucose, the sugar, to produce energy," Mosconi said.
If your brain does not burn glucose efficiently, you eventually start to have symptoms, like memory loss, depression, hot flashes.
Mosconi duplicated the findings in a second study and is now looking to expand her work.
The hope is that the findings will lead to more tailored treatments to address or prevent these brain changes.
For now, Segal's scans show no sign of Alzheimer's and she's determined to keep it that way.
"We know one thing for sure, we're never curing my mother but we might have a chance at curing me. I'd rather be driving the bus than chasing the bus," Segal said.