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Even Mild Infections Hasten Decline With Alzheimer's
Date:9/7/2009

They speed memory loss as much as 10-fold, researchers find,,

MONDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- For people with Alzheimer's disease, even a minor infection can double the rate of memory loss, British researchers report.

In this new study, researchers found that Alzheimer's patients who had respiratory, gastrointestinal or other infections -- even minor bumps and bruises -- can have high levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), in their blood. TNF-a is a protein linked to inflammation, and has been associated with memory loss or other types of cognitive decline.

"Illnesses that we normally consider to be of little consequence in the healthy aged person need to be taken more seriously in patients with Alzheimer's disease," said lead researcher Clive Holmes, from the Clinical Neurosciences Research Division at the University of Southampton in the U.K.

"Short-lived illnesses or conditions that cause inflammation outside the brain are associated with a marked decline in memory function in patients that have Alzheimer's disease. This decline is not a temporary effect, and remains after the illness has resolved," he added.

The report is published in the Sept. 8 issue of Neurology.

For the study, Holmes and colleagues looked at blood tests and cognitive ability in 222 Alzheimer's patients. The researchers measured these factors at the start of the study and three more times during the trial.

In addition, caregivers reported any infections or accidental injuries suffered by the patients during that time.

Over the six months of the study, 110 people had an infection or injury that resulted in inflammation. These people had memory loss at twice the rate of those who did not have infections or injuries, the researchers found.

Memory loss among patients with high TNF-a levels at the start of the study was four times greater than among patients with low TNF-a
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