Alzheimer’s may make itself known long before classic symptoms begin to show. Scientists are working on a test that detects early changes in the brain and spinal column fluid, found in people who go on to develop inherited Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers hope their findings will enable doctors to intervene earlier in cases where people develop the rare early-onset form of the disease. Drugs aimed at slowing the disease’s progression are more likely to be effective at this stage.
[Related: 5 early Alzheimer's warning signs]
Symptoms of the disease that appear later include the classic memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s patients, and plaques in the brain. But long before these, scientists have detected structural differences in some parts of the brain and higher amounts of protein in the spinal column.
The study was by a team at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, Arizona and looked at 44 people aged between 18 and 26. Twenty carried a mutation for the disease and those with it were found to develop Alzheimer’s at around 45.
[Related: Could mineral water prevent Alzheimer's?]
The study’s lead author Prof Eric Reiman said: “These findings suggest that brain changes begin many years before the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease…and the extent to which they could be targeted by future prevention therapies.”
Though further research is necessary, experts believe this is a step towards finding a way to prevent those with the genetic mutation developing the disease.
The study was published in the Lancet Neurology journal. It follows an announcement by David Cameron that the Government is backing the trial of new technology designed to slash diagnosis times for dementia patients.