What the team noticed was a considerable increase in astrocytes - the brain cells which typically protect and support the neurons.
It's believed that this phenomenon is in fact the body's response to the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease in which protein fragments call amyloid build up and damage brain tissue.
The GE funded study accomplished this breakthrough when the team carried out a small scale test on 52 people with genetic mutations that were known to significantly increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Asking the participants to engage in a number of memory tests they then injected the brain with radioactive tracers.
While the tests were taking place the participants were placed inside PET scanners which then show brain activity.
What the researchers found were the first deposits of amyloid had already begun, some 17 years before the expected onset of symptoms.
Interestingly what they also discovered was that the astrocyte cells would initially spike as they tried to fight the build up but would then start declining as the plaque increased.
“Astrocyte activation peaks roughly 20 years before the expected symptoms and then goes into decline, in contrast to the accumulation of amyloid plaques, which increases constantly over time until clinical symptoms show,” Nordberg says.
“To treat Alzheimer’s disease, we must first understand the course of its progression over time and develop diagnostic markers to detect it,” she says. “This line of research offers a new way to understand it, and it also raises the question, can we use this knowledge to develop new therapies?"
The Alzheimer's Association says that people who have the illness will find it difficult to complete daily tasks - this could range from cleaning to forgetting the rules of a game played regularly.
Finding it hard to read and understand visual images.
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The Alzheimer's Association claim that people may find it hard to read or understand certain images if suffering from the disease. They also may find it difficult to determine colour or contrast, which may stop them from driving.
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People with Alzheimer's may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and also accuse others of stealing. This may become more and more frequent.
Confusion with time or places.
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The Alzheimer's Association says that people who have the condition can lose track of time, dates and seasons.Sufferers may have trouble understanding things if they are not happening promptly. They may also lose track of where they are and how they got there.
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Sufferers may feel changes in their ability to follow a plan or work with numbers. They'll probably have trouble following a basic recipe, or keeping track of monthly bills.They might find it difficult to concentrate and take much longer to do things than they did before.Source: Alzheimer's Association
Withdrawel from social activities.
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Someone with Alzheimer's may remove themselves from certain hobbies/interests and social activities.
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The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's disease can change, they can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. Source: Alzheimer's Association
Decreased or poor judgment.
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People with Alzheimer's may have poor judgment. This can include confusion over how much money they should spend.They may also pay less attention to grooming and cleaning themselves regularly.Source: Alzheimer's Association