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.
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.
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.”
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