07/09/2013 10:33 am ET

Alzheimer's Research: Signs Of The Disease Can Be Detected Years Before Diagnosis


Treating Alzheimer's early is thought to be key to preventing damage to memory and thinking. And that's why a new study out of Birmingham City University in Britain is so important.

Researchers there have discovered that signs of the disease can be detected years before diagnosis. This finding, they hope, will lead others to find an effective clinical treatment to delay the progression of Alzheimer's.

The study found that sufferers of a specific type of cognitive impairment have an increased loss of cells in specific areas of the brain, which can be important in figuring out which patients will progress to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

A team of researchers from Birmingham City University, working with colleagues from Lanzhou University (China) and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, conducted a brain scan analysis over two years of patients suffering from amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) -– a condition involving the diminishing of cognitive abilities, from which 80 percent of patients progress to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Scans showed that the loss of grey matter -- a major component of the central nervous system -- in the left hemisphere of the brain was particularly widespread and degenerative for those people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, compared with those with no active neurological disorders.

This region of the brain has been linked with language, decision making, personality expression, social behavior and movement.

One of the researchers involved in the study, Professor Mike Jackson, said in a press release: “Continuous loss of cells within the regions of the brain highlighted in this study should act as alarm bells for doctors, as they may indicate that the patient is on course to developing Alzheimer’s.”

When it comes to Alzheimer's research, more good news emerged earlier this year when researchers at Utah State University discovered that the progression of decline in brain functioning among Alzheimer's patients may be dramatically slowed by a simple change in the patient's environment.

Alzheimer's is one of the top 10 diseases Americans die from every year. The degenerative brain disease is the most common form of dementia.



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