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Alzheimer’s Develops Sooner than Expected

Posted on November 13 2012

Alzheimer’s disease has been a growing epidemic for some time. Recent polls are showing that it has become the most feared disease in the nation. A new study may increase fears about the disease, but the results also carry a silver lining. The latest neurological study, published in the journal Lancet Neurology, focused on a Colombian extended family of nearly 5,000 relatives. Members of this family carry a genetically mutated form of Alzheimer’s, and close to one-third of its members will develop the disease. While some of the family members will never develop the disease, many are carriers of the mutated gene. While the situation of this family is unfortunate, it has opened the door to some new discoveries about the debilitating disease. Through study, researchers found that signs begin to appear approximately 20 years before the disease takes hold in those destined to develop Alzheimer’s. This means, some of the brain changes begin occurring nearly 20 years before any cognitive impairment sets in. In some of the family members, these brain changes took place as early as 18 years old. Other symptoms occurred later with the development of mild cognitive impairment around the age of 45 and full-blown dementia around age 53. These results surprised researchers who were not expecting to see brain changes earlier than the occurrence of the tell-tale sign of Alzheimer’s, plaque development from the protein beta-amyloid. They also found that beta-amyloid, also known as a-beta, levels were high in the spinal fluid of many of the young adults. The young adults with the elevated levels of a-beta also tested positive for the gene mutation, while their peers without the gene mutation had regular levels of a-beta in their spinal fluid. When looking directly at the brain, the areas which operate memory showed signs of deterioration even before the plaques had taken over. In the young adults who tested with the gene mutation, the grey matter in their brains was smaller than in the brains of their healthy peers. This is a finding so new that researchers are cautioning more study must be done to examine exactly why. Researchers also want to determine if the high-levels of a-beta in the younger participants is due to an over production, and if the development of late-life Alzheimer’s is a product of the beta-a not being able to escape the brain properly. Thanks to the gene mutation, researchers can positively identify which of the Colombian family members will develop Alzheimer’s and prepare those who will be their caretakers. It also allows researchers to have a large sampling of participants who all share a common link and who can make a real difference in the way we look at and treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Sources: Wall Street Journal Marketwatch - http://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-rank-alzheimers-as-most-feared-disease-according-to-new-marist-poll-for-home-instead-senior-care-2012-11-13 New York Times Health - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/health/alzheimers-precursors-founds-at-earlier-age.html

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