Study Detects Alzheimer's Disease Brain Damage Decades Before Symptoms Appear

A new research study has shown differences in the brains of Alzheimer's patients decades before the onset of symptoms. This research may help predict Alzheimer's disease, allowing more time for treatment. It may also help the development of new drugs to prevent or treat the disease, and offer means of preventing or delaying the disease through lifestyle choices.

early alzheimer's detection

The research came out in the journal Lancet Neurology. Young members of an extended family in Colombia that suffers from early-onset of this brain disease were selected for the study. This family is genetically predisposed to get Alzheimer's disease in their 40's (the disease usually shows clear symptoms after age 75). They scanned the brains of family members aged 18-26 and discovered they were already different from those in a control group. Additionally, their cerebral and spinal cord fluid had higher levels of beta-amyloid, a protein.

When Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed, there is already significant brain damage. Scientists have already discovered markers of the disease for early detection. This research shows that brain changes start many years before overt symptoms of Alzheimer's appear. This knowledge could be used to create new treatments and drugs for early intervention.

Alzheimer's disease, also called dementia, is characterized by the buildup of plaque and tangles in the brain. There is no cure, and the disease is progressive. Symptoms include a pattern of forgetfulness, limited attention span, difficulty with routine tasks, language difficulties, disorientation, problems with thinking, poor judgment, and more. Self-diagnosis is not recommended -- only a doctor can properly diagnosis Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin deficiencies and other problems can mimic it.

The causes of Alzheimer's disease are not well understood. An article in Lancet indicated that physical exercise and mental stimulation, such as crossword puzzles, can help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Research into nutritional impacts on Alzheimer's has been conducted. Botanicals are also currently being studied. Drug therapies can help lessen symptoms but not halt the disease. By slowing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, drugs like rivastigmine (Exelon), tacrine (Cognex), and donepezil (Aricept) can relieve memory impairment to some extent.