Alzheimer’s disease: how to spot the first signs years before the diagnosis?

Managing Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible requires early diagnosis. What if certain signs announced the pathology years before it was diagnosed? This is what British researchers have observed.

There are very few effective treatments for dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases. This is partly because these conditions are often not diagnosed until symptoms appear, even though the neurodegeneration may have started years or even decades earlier.

“This means that by the time patients enter clinical trials, it may already be too late in the disease process to alter its course,” a team from the University of Cambridge suggests.

So, is it possible to detect changes in brain function before symptoms appear? To find out, scientists looked at data from the UK Biobank. Which contains anonymous information about the genetics, lifestyle and health of half a million British participants aged 40 to 69.

This database also includes the results of a battery of tests including problem solving, memory, reaction times, as well as information on weight loss and gain and number of falls. This allowed them to examine whether warning signs of dementia were present between 5 and 9 years before the diagnosis.

A fall a year before

Result: people who developed Alzheimer’s disease performed less well than healthy people in problem solving, reaction times, memorization of lists of numbers, prospective memory (our ability to remember to do something later)…

They were also more likely to have fallen in the past 12 months.

“When we reviewed the patient histories, it became clear that they had cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms became evident enough to trigger a diagnosis,” the authors launch.

“It’s a step towards early detection and treatment of people at risk – for example, people with high blood pressure or who don’t exercise enough.”

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