Neuropathological and neuropsychological changes in "normal" aging: evidence for preclinical Alzheimer disease in cognitively normal individuals

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 1998 Dec;57(12):1168-74. doi: 10.1097/00005072-199812000-00009.


The presence of diffuse or primitive senile plaques in the neocortex of cognitively normal elderly at autopsy has been presumed to represent normal aging. Alternatively, these patients may have developed dementia and clinical Alzheimer disease (AD) if they had survived. In this setting, these patients could be subjects for cognitive or pharmacologic intervention to delay disease onset. We have thus followed a cohort of cognitively normal elderly subjects with a Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) of 0 at autopsy. Thirty-one brains were examined at postmortem according to Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer Disease (CERAD) criteria and staged according to Braak. Ten patients were pathologically normal according to CERAD criteria (1a). Two of these patients were Braak Stage II. Seven very elderly subjects exhibited a few primitive neuritic plaques in the cortex and thus represented CERAD 1b. These individuals ranged in age from 85 to 105 years and were thus older than the CERAD la group that ranged in age from 72 to 93. Fourteen patients displayed Possible AD according to CERAD with ages ranging from 66 to 95. Three of these were Braak Stage I, 4 were Braak Stage II, and 7 were Braak Stage III. The Apolipoprotein E4 allele was over-represented in this possible AD group. Neuropsychological data were available on 12 individuals. In these 12 individuals, Possible AD at autopsy could be predicted by cognitive deficits in 1 or more areas including savings scores on memory testing and overall performance on some measures of frontal executive function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / psychology
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reference Values
  • Registries