New Alzheimer’s Research Gives Hope for Early Intervention

U.S. researchers have shown that it may be possible to detect hints of Alzheimer’s disease nearly two decades before symptoms manifest, providing a vital window of opportunity for medical intervention.

Alzheimer’s disease most often affects the over 65s. It is a degenerative disorder, for which there is currently no cure, that leads to progressively worsening cognitive impairment. This often manifests in lapses in memory and thinking skills and a loss of physical dexterity to the point where, in the final stages before death, the sufferer becomes completely dependent on caregivers in order to have their basic needs met.

Treating the disease early is absolutely vital in order to slow down degeneration.

With this in mind, early detection of and intervention against Alzheimer’s has been a keen area of interest for researchers. Previous studies have shown that Alzheimer’s may be detectable up to 15 years prior to the disease manifesting when, as a result of brain cell death, the impairment becomes recognizable.

Now, U.S.  researchers have been able to demonstrate that changes in brain chemistry in some Alzheimer’s sufferers may occur as much as two decades before clinical symptoms show themselves.

Researchers from Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Arizona discovered this by taking a group of patients who have what is known as familial Alzheimer’s. There is a particular genetic mutation (PSEN1) which means that each person in that line will nearly always show signs of Alzheimer’s by their early 40s, this being what is known early on-set Alzheimer’s, a much rarer form of the disease.

The patients, a group of 20 people aged between 18 and 26 who all tested as having the mutation, were subjected to brain scans. Startlingly, when researchers compared the results of those brain scans with 24 people who did not have the genetic mutation, there were very clear differences in particular regions of the brain.

Specifically, carriers of the gene mutation were shown to have less brain matter in certain areas. They also displayed greater activity in the hippocampus and the parahipppcampus regions. In addition to this, the mutation carriers also exhibited a higher level of a protein called amyloid beta in their cerebrospinal fluid.

Amyloid beta has been detected in previous studies as an indicator of Alzheimer’s, but the test group showed an increase in the protein without the associated development of  ”plaques” that are also key sign of Alzheimer’s.

While this research has only limited implications for Alzheimer’s detection in the wider population, researchers are hopeful it may provide the first steps to giving at-risk patients a window of opportunity to stave off cognitive degeneration.

Reports the BBC:

Dr Eric Reiman, one of the scientists involved, said: “These findings suggest that brain changes begin many years before the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

“They raise new questions about the earliest brain changes involved in the predisposition to Alzheimer’s and the extent to which they could be targeted by future prevention therapies.”

Prof Nick Fox, from the Institute of Neurology at University College London, said some of his patients had lost a fifth of some parts of their brain by the time they arrived at the clinic.

He told the BBC: “I don’t think this pushes us forwards in terms of early diagnosis, we already have markers of the disease.

“The key thing this does is open up the window of early intervention before people take a clinical and cognitive hit.”

Finding a drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has proved notoriously difficult. This is partly because Alzheimer’s is usually only diagnosed after cognitive impairment has started, meaning the disease has already taken hold.

The presence of increased amyloid beta in the patients tested here, who may be as much as twenty to thirty years away from developing symptoms, has given researchers an avenue for future exploration because it suggests that Alzheimer’s may go through a longer pre-symptom period than first thought.

As such, timing may be crucial in blocking the accumulation of the protein that, researchers believe, triggers the disease mechanism.  If researchers were able to intervene early enough, and with appropriate drug therapies, they may have a better chance of fighting Alzheimer’s progression.


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Image credit: Thinkstock.


Grace Adams
Grace Adams2 years ago

Early detection helps ONLY if treatment can be started sooner and help slow the disease down enough for something else to kill the patient before the dementia really disables the patient. I also feel that for many disability can be a fate worse than death.

Miriam O.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Interesting. Thank you for posting it.

Sue R.
Sue R5 years ago

Sad disease, I deal with it all the time. I'm a CNA for a small hospice company. I hope they find a cure.

Arild Warud

Great news.

Meris M.
Meris Michaels5 years ago

London Professor Nick Fox commented that "Some of his patients had lost a fifth of some parts of their brain by the time they arrived at the clinic..." Perhaps from too much mobile phone use. Already in 2003, Swedish researcher Professor Leif Salford was saying that mobile phones “may trigger Alzheimer’s... We cannot exclude that after some decades of often daily use, a whole generation of users may suffer negative effects maybe already in their middle age." Readers, do not disregard this warning ! More and more credible independent research shows the risks of exposure to wireless technologies, but the mobile industry is covering this up to ensure ever more profits.

Read more:

Megan M.
Megan M.5 years ago

Researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis are looking for women who have an older relative with dementia to participate in an ONLINE SURVEY about family caregiving and related health issues. Eligible participants are women ages 30-65 years old who are parents and also help care for an older relative with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia (women in the “sandwich generation”). Participants who complete the survey will be eligible to be entered into a raffle for a chance to win a $100 gift card. For more information, please email: or go to our website at

Lynn Squance
Lynn S5 years ago

My mother, her mother's brother and probably sister, and my mother's grandmother all had or have Alzheimer's. My mother is in a care centre getting 24/7 care and has the basic age of 2 years in an 84 year old body. It is sad to watch a once vibrant person die one day at a time, because it is literaly a living death. As a diabetic, I know that I am at higher risk. Will it miss my generation, I hope so. My father's side of the family does not have Alzheimer's.

Thanks for the article. I found myself wondering, would I want to be part of research and find out if I have the applicable gene mutation? I think yes because life is about quality of life, not quantity. I try to keep my mother's quality of life high and I know that her care givers do too. But I can tell you that I am exhausted every time I am with my mother. Sometimes I want to scream, but I know there is nothing I can do. It is the disease. So we spend some time together and we laugh! My mother has lost the ability to talk so her main way of communicating is with hugs, kisses and touching. She hugs and kisses all the care aids as her way of saying thank you. When I am driving her somewhere, she will put her hand on my shoulder or arm or leg. XOXOXO Mum!

Beverly G.
bev g5 years ago

its a terrible discease.. along with Parkinsons. My nan had alzheimers. I hope i dont get it, im 57 and my brain goes doo lally like the above said in the research. I no we all have lapes of memory but its scary when its hereditry