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article imageAlzheimer's: Low memory test scores may be early sign of dementia

By Marcus Hondro     Jun 26, 2015 in Science
A new study has found low scores on memory and thinking tests may be a signal a person will develop Alzheimer's Disease. Researchers found that a signal that Alzheimer's is there may be detected up to 18 years before a diagnosis of the illness.
Early signs of Alzheimer's
The study comes out of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and was published in the American Academy of Neurology journal this week. Lead author, Kumar B. Rajan said the changes that indicate dementia begin long before a diagnosis of the illness is made.
"The changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin decades before,” Dr. Rajan said in a press release. “While we cannot currently detect such changes in individuals at risk, we were able to observe them among a group of individuals who eventually developed dementia due to Alzheimer’s."
Rajan worked with four other researchers on Cognitive impairment 18 years before clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease, dementia. It is the first study to show Alzheimer's and other dementia appear to be present for such a long duration. Others have speculated, however, that signs of dementia are present for a lengthy period before symptoms arrive.
Increased dementia chances
In the study, every three years for 18 years, 2,125 European-American and African-American persons with an average age of 73 were tested on memory and thinking. Of that group, 23 percent of African-Americans and 17 percent of European-Americans would go on to develop Alzheimer's.
In the first year of the study, those who scored lower in memory and thinking tests were found by the end of the 18 years to have been some 10 times more likely to eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer's than those who scored higher on the tests. The lower the score, the greater the chance of dementia, and that statistic continued throughout the study.
"A general current concept is that in development of Alzheimer's disease, certain physical and biologic changes precede memory and thinking impairment," Rajan said. "If this is so, then these underlying processes may have a very long duration. Efforts to successfully prevent the disease may well require a better understanding of these processes near middle age."
Alzheimer's research
There are a number of promising treatment developments for Alzheimer's. In the U.S. researchers from a biotechnology company called Genentech Inc. are looking at an injection that will deliver antibodies to the brain needed to fight the illness. To date, tests on monkeys have been successful.
In Florida, researchers there are entering a phase three trial of a drug called aducanumab that has shown promise in reducing the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain, slowing down and even reversing the symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Worldwide, around 44 million people have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. On average, once a diagnosis has been made, an Alzheimer's patient will die within 4-8 years. Figures from 2013 estimate that nearly 1.7 million people in the world died from dementia that year.
To date, there is no cure or method of slowing the disease's progression but the studies noted above, and others, provide hope for patients and their families and caregivers.
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