Alzheimer’s May Begin Early in Life

Study finds signs detected 20 years before

human head made with puzzle pieces

Understanding how Alzheimer’s disease develops may one day help researchers come up with ways to delay its progression.                                                                          

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds the Alzheimer’s disease process may begin more than 20 years before the onset of dementia is diagnosed.

Stephen Rao, PhD, a Cleveland Clinic researcher who works with Alzheimer’s patients says the study found a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease called amyloid-beta, which may begin changing in the brain 20 years before dementia sets in.

“At 10 to 15 years, we begin to see atrophy in the brain,” Dr. Rao says. “Five years before diagnosis, we begin to see changes in memory, but not sufficient enough to result in the diagnosis. And then the person is eventually diagnosed,” he adds.

Advertising Policy

Study details

Washington University researchers studied 128 people with a family history of Alzheimer’s and found concentrations of amyloid-beta in the cerebrospinal fluid declining 25 years before symptoms of dementia appeared.

For people who inherit Alzheimer’s, this means that the series of changes in the brain that result in the disease begin more than 20 years prior to the person being diagnosed.

Researchers say the findings may not apply to sporadic Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most commonly diagnosed form of Alzheimer’s, so more studies are needed.

But Dr. Rao says the findings may lead to better treatments.

Advertising Policy

“If we can develop drugs that can prevent the disease or slow it down 20 years before, we have a good chance that either we’ll push back the age of diagnosis or we may eliminate [a person’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis] altogether,” he says.

More information

Dementia 
Alzheimer’s Disease 
Living With Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Related posts

Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Video: Get Physical To Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk 
How Lifestyle Affects Alzheimer’s 
New Imaging Detects Alzheimer’s More Accurately (Video)

Advertising Policy