Scientists have created an ‘early signs timeline’ for Alzheimer’s disease that they believe could help experts detect the condition up to 25 years before it strikes.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 128 people with a family history of early Alzheimer’s.

The participants were all selected from the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer's Network, a research centre for those who are genetically predestined to develop the degenerative disease, and considered to have (at least) a 50% chance of inheriting one of three gene mutations that cause the disease.

alzheimers disease timeline

Scientists have created an Alzheimer's 'timeline'

Based on their findings, a team of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine assembled a ‘timeline’ of changes to spinal fluid, brain size and the appearance of brain plaques in those who carry the Alzheimer’s gene.

Researchers focused on the age the participants’ parents and grandparents developed Alzheimer’s when putting together the dementia ‘timeline’, as well as blood and spinal fluid tests (the key test that detects the earliest change in brain patterns).


The study authors claim they were able to detect early changes in memory and cognitive decline via a drop of spinal fluid.

The key protein linked to the onset of Alzheimer's, called amyloid, can be picked up as early as 25 years before the condition is expected to develop and rising levels of ‘tau’, a toxic, brain shrinking protein, also show up.

Scientists adds that the significant beta amyloid protein (APP gene) become visible in brain scans fifteen years before individuals show symptoms of the disease and changes in the brain’s sugar glucose levels, which can cause memory loss, can also be detected.

"It's really the first report that we have in living people of these changes," said study author Dr. Randall Bateman in a statement.

ALSO READ: Could The Way You Walk 'Predict' Your Risk Of Dementia?

Researchers noted the results had bigger implications for those who were more exposed to developing dementia at an early age (between 30 to 45), rather than the common late-onset (which is usually aged 65 plus).

"What we don't know is if the time, the order of magnitude and the size of these changes is similar or not," Bateman said. "It may be many years before we have this information."

“This important research highlights that key changes in the brain, linked to the inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease, happen decades before symptoms show, which may have major implications for diagnosis and treatment in the future,” professor Clive Ballard from the Alzheimer’s Society said in a statement.

“There are also good indications that these findings could apply to people with non-hereditary Alzheimer’s disease, but we can’t yet be sure. Further research into this complex condition is needed to confirm a definite link.”

Worried about Alzheimer's? Take a look at these lifestyle changes you can make...

Loading Slideshow...
  • Lifestyle Changes To Help Prevent Dementia

  • Drink Decaffeinated Coffee

    A study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that <a href="" target="_hplink">decaffeinated coffee improves the brain's energy metabolism - linked to cognitive decline</a> - in those with Type 2 diabetes. "This is the first evidence showing the potential benefits of decaffeinated coffee preparations for both preventing and treating cognitive decline caused by type 2 diabetes, ageing, and/ or neurodegenerative disorders," said lead researcher, Dr Giulio Maria Pasinett.

  • Play Brain-Teasing Games

    Everyday <a href="" target="_hplink">games, puzzles and tasks were able to postpone decline in cognitive function and the ability to carry out everyday tasks, in dementia patients, for at least a year</a>, according to research from the University of Erlangen in Germany, published in the journals BMC Medicine.

  • Eat Less

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Eating fewer calories could help boost memory and cognitive function</a>, according to a study at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Researchers hope to mimic the same effect with a drug in the future, bringing hope to Alzheimer's sufferers as well as those suffering from injury-related memory loss.

  • Eat Fish

    Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre and School of Medicine found that <a href="" target="_hplink">people who ate baked or grilled fish regularly reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's</a>. Reseracher Cyrus Raji said: "The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled (grilled) fish at least one time per week had better preservation of grey matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease."

  • Play The Wii Fit

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Working out using virtual games such as the Wii Fit could slow cognitive decline in the over 50s</a>, researchers from Union College in the US found. Participants aged between 58 and 99 were given a 3D exercise game to play. Compared to the control group who were asked to use a regular exercise bike, the 'cybercycle' group had a 23% decrease in advancement of mild cognitive impairment and showed improved 'executive function'.

  • Do The Seven-Step Plan

    A study in The Lancet Neurology suggest that <a href="" target="_hplink">3m cases of Alzheimer's across the world could be prevented in seven simple ways</a>. The report recommends quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, controlling your blood pressure and diabetes risk factors as well as managing depression and obesity to help combat the disease.