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Test could predict Alzheimer's disease

New study shows lesions similar to those found in Alzheimer's sufferers in apparently healthy middle-aged adults

A new study has shown lesions similar to those found in Alzheimer's sufferers in the brains of apparently healthy middle-aged adults, suggesting that the neurological decline that leads to the disease may begin at this stage of life. The researchers also found that such decline could be predicted with a simple-to-administer measure-of-attention test.

The study was conducted as part of the PATH Through Life Project on Australians from the Canberra area and was led by David Bunce, professor of psychology at Brunel University in the UK, and a visiting professorial fellow at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University (ANU).

The research revealed that some apparently healthy adults of between 44 and 48 years of age had minute white matter lesions in areas of their brains similar to those found in people with Alzheimer's disease later in life. In addition, the scientists were more easily able to predict which individuals might develop these lesions via measures-of-attention tests.

The results suggest that the neurological decline thought to lead to the development of Alzheimer's disease may begin much earlier in people's lives than was thought.

"Although we cannot be certain that these middle-aged people will go on to get dementia, the results are important for several reasons," said Prof Bunce.

"First, the study is one of the first to show that lesions in areas of the brain that deteriorate in dementia are present in some adults in their 40s.

"Second, although the presence of the lesions was confirmed through MRI scans, we were able to predict those persons who had them through very simple to administer measures-of-attention tests.

"Finally, if the findings are repeated in laboratories elsewhere, the study lays open possibilities for screening, early detection and intervention in healthcare settings. The earlier we can intervene with people vulnerable to eventual dementia, the greater the chances of preventing or delaying the disease's onset."

The research is presented in the paper 'Cognitive Deficits are associated with Frontal and Temporal Lobe White Matter Lesions in Middle-Aged Adults Living in the Community', published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

10th November 2010

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