Alzheimer’s is a disease usually seen in older people, but a new study shows that people with Alzheimer’s disease may have brain changes consistent with the disease much earlier in life. How early? According to a new study from Australian National University, apparently healthy people in their forties may have signs of dementia on head MRI.
Early Alzheimer’s Signs in Middle-Aged People
When researchers studied a group of 431 healthy people between the ages of 44 to 48, they made an interesting discovery. When they tested them using a simple task to measure reaction time, those who didn’t perform well were more likely to have small lesions in their brains suggestive of early Alzheimer’s disease.
Lesions were found in the white matter of the brain, an area which consists of mostly myelinated nerve fibers. Some studies show that Alzheimer’s disease begins not in the gray matter, as was originally thought, but in the white matter of the brain – and these changes may be the first sign of early Alzheimer’s disease. This means people with Alzheimer’s may have evidence of the disease on head MRI as early as their forties.
Why is this important? Researchers believe by administering a reaction time test similar to the one used in this study, they can screen for people who may have early white matter lesions on MRI. By finding these white matter lesions early, steps could be taken to slow down progression, and, possibly prevent Alzheimer’s dementia. Lifestyle interventions such as quitting smoking, exercising and treating high blood pressure and obesity could have an impact for some people.
Early Alzheimer’s Disease: What Type of Screening Test Did They Use in This Study?
In this study, researchers asked the participants to press a button when they saw one of two lights light up on a screen. This test measured their ability to react quickly to a stimulus. Participants who had inconsistent reaction times, some fast and some slow, were most likely to have white matter lesions suggestive of early Alzheimer’s. This type of test would be easy to perform as a screening test.
Looking for Early Alzheimer’s Disease: The Bottom Line?
Using a reaction time test for early Alzheimer’s lesions could be an inexpensive way to screen people who may be at high risk for the disease later in life. It’s possible that people could even screen themselves by using one of the many free tests that measure reaction time online. There’s no certain way to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease in high risk people, but lifestyle changes could delay the onset of symptoms. Stay tuned for more research on this.
Medical News Today. “Alzheimers Clues Found In Middle-Aged Adults”
Science Blog. “Alzheimer’s disease may originate in the brain’s white matter”