Alzheimer’s could be spotted up to 34 YEARS before symptoms begin by looking for the protein that drives the memory-robbing disorder in people’s SPINES
- Patients whose relatives have Alzheimer’s have elevated tau in their spinal fluid
- Tau is known to form tangles in the areas of the brain important for memory
- The protein then moves through the brain as Alzheimer’s symptoms progress
Early warning signs of Alzheimer’s could be spotted decades before symptoms begin, research suggests.
A study found at-risk patients have more tau protein in their spinal fluid up to 34 years before they show signs of memory loss.
Tau is known to form tangles in the areas of the brain that are important for memory, however it hasn’t been proven to cause Alzheimer’s.
Studies have shown the build-up of the toxic protein moves through the vital organ as symptoms of the memory-robbing disorder progress.
Early warning signs of Alzheimer’s could be spotted decades before symptoms begin (stock)
The research was carried out by Johns Hopkins University and led by Dr Laurent Younes, professor and chair of the department of applied mathematics and statistics.
‘Our study suggests it may be possible to use brain imaging and spinal fluid analysis to assess risk of Alzheimer’s disease before the most common symptoms, such as mild cognitive impairment, occur,’ Dr Younes said.
Some 850,000 people have dementia in the UK, with Alzheimer’s being the most common type of the disease, Alzheimer’s Society statistics show.
And more than five million adults in the US are living with the disease, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.
The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are age 65 and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
It is unknown what causes Alzheimer’s. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.
Signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty remembering newly learned information
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
- More serious memory loss
- Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking
Stages of Alzheimer’s:
- Mild Alzheimer’s (early-stage) – A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses
- Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle-stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
- Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.
Past evidence suggests the mechanisms behind Alzheimer’s onset could begin more than a decade before cognitive impairment sets in, the researchers wrote in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
This has left experts wondering whether biomarkers for dementia could be picked up in the disease’s ‘preclinical stage’.
To put this to the test, the researchers analysed the medical records of 290 people aged 40 or over.
All were ‘cognitively normal’ at the start of the study, but most had at least one close relative with Alzheimer’s, which raises their risk of the disease.
The medical records were collected by the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins as part of the BIOCARD project, which aims to spot markers that predict cognitive decline.
Spinal fluid samples and MRI scans were collected from each participants every two years between 1995 and 2005.
The patients also underwent memory, learning, reading and attention tests annually from 1995-to-2013.
Over the years, the researchers tracked any clinical changes associated with Alzheimer’s and the time it took for these to be followed by symptoms.
By their last BIOCARD assessment, 209 of the participants remained cognitively normal and the remaining 81 had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s.
In all of the 81 patients with Alzheimer’s, the scientists identified subtle changes in their cognitive test scores 11-to-15 years before they suffered cognitive impairment.
The results also revealed increases in the rate of change to tau in their spinal fluid up to 34.4 years before cognitive decline set in.
And changes to the patients’ brain scans occurred between two and eight years before symptoms emerged.
The researchers stress, however, changes to the brain vary widely between people and only a relatively small number of people were included in the study.
And even if biomarkers for Alzheimer’s were identified, no drug exists that can prevent or slow the disease, they add.
However, the researchers hope the study will one day lead to a test that determines an individual’s Alzheimer’s risk to help doctors choose the best treatment, which focuses on reducing symptoms.
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