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Alzheimer’s Symptoms Show Up 18 Years Before Diagnosis, Study Finds

Alzheimer's Disease

While the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease might not become apparent until old age, the biological processes that cause the mental decline of the disease may begin showing in middle age, according to a new study.

Low scores on thinking and memory tests may signal Alzheimer’s up to 18 years before a diagnosis, suggest the findings.

Researchers gave 2,125 people a memory and thinking skills test every three years for 18 years, Forbes reported. The participants in the study had not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when the research started, and all were of European-American or African-American descent.

The findings, which were published in the journal Neurology, revealed that 17 percent of the European-American and 23 percent of the African-American participants developed Alzheimer’s over the course of the study. The participants who scored the lowest on the tests during the first year were 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

According to the results, scoring low on a test by just one unit (a standard drop below average) 13 to 18 years before the final assessment is linked to an overwhelming 85 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with the disease later in life.

Kumar B. Rajan, PhD, study author and assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said that “changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin decades before.”

The changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin decades before. 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.

Alzheimer’s symptoms present differently from person to person. Typical problems involve memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, difficulty with problem solving, or problems with planning.

Some cases may even struggle with “confusion of time and place, difficulties understanding visual images and spatial relationships or even difficulties writing and/or speaking,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Rajan believes prevention of the disease requires “a better understanding of these processes near middle age.”

Efforts to successfully prevent the disease may well require a better understanding of these processes near middle age.

If someone you know is showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is important to talk to a doctor immediately. While there is no cure, treatments available – such as getting a few hours of extra sleep a night — can increase the quality of life for a patient suffering from the disease.

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