When high school Spanish teacher Joyce Botti started complaining about memory problems a few years ago, doctors dismissed her concerns as normal signs of aging.
But new research being presented Wednesday at an international Alzheimer's conference suggests that Botti's worries - like those of others suffering so-called "senior moments" - could be the earliest indicators of devastating brain disease.
Botti, now 60, was forgetting little things - her keys, coffee at the drive-though, scheduled meetings - but she was also making mistakes when writing on the blackboard or trying to recall certain words in class.
Then, one day, the bournedale, Mass., woman turned off the water in the shower at home and couldn't remember how to get out.
"All these things that we try to explain away. I knew there were too many things coming together," said Botti, who demanded to see a neurologist and was diagnosed last year with early-onset Alzheimer's.
She said she wishes that doctors would have paid closer attention to her initial concerns, a theme echoed this week by a raft of new research at that Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Boston that shows the memory and thinking lapses notice themselves could be early markers of risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Not to scare anyone - especially 1 in 8 baby boomers who report memory problems, according to a recent report - but patients' own concerns may predate clinical changes in the brain and in cognitive functions that may indicate disease, the findings suggest.