Hidden sign of dementia appears nearly two decades before any clinical symptoms – new study

A new study has detected a hidden sign of dementia that can appear almost two decades before any clinical symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia – which is a general term for memory loss and other problems that interfere with daily life, such as thinking and behaviour.

Scientists are yet to identify the process that kick-starts Alzheimer’s, but new research shows real potential for early intervention.

Researchers have created a sensor that identifies ‘misfolded protein biomarkers’ – which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases – up to 17 years before clinical symptoms of dementia are apparent.

As the disease progresses, these misfolding protein biomarkers cause characteristic deposits in the brain called plaques that gather between neurons and disrupt cell function.

But early detection of this misfolding in the blood means there’s a real chance of detecting Alzheimer’s disease before any symptoms occur.

A ground-breaking study
This fascinating study was carried out at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg (DKFZ) headed by Professor Hermann Brenner and Professor Klaus Gerwert.

Professor Gerwert, founding director of the Centre for Protein Diagnostics (PRODI) at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, said: “Our goal is to determine the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia at a later stage with a simple blood test even before the toxic plaques can form in the brain, in order to ensure that a therapy can be initiated in time”.

The study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The blood samples were taken between 2000 and 2002 before being frozen. At that time, test participants were aged between 50 and 75 years old and hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The breakthrough research selected 68 participants diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during the 17-year follow-up and were compared with 240 control subjects without the diagnosis.

The team aimed to discover whether signs of Alzheimer’s disease were already in the blood samples at the very beginning of the study.

Incredibly, the immuno-infrared sensor could accurately identify the 68 test subjects who later went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

How to reduce the risk of dementia
While there’s no certain way to prevent all types of dementia, the NHS says there’s good evidence that a healthy lifestyle can go some way to reduce the risk as we get older.

Diet
The risk: Having a diet that’s loaded with saturated fat, sugar and salt, and worryingly low in fibre can raise your risk of high cholesterol ,high blood pressure, becoming overweight or obese, and developing type 2 diabetes.

What you can do: Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet following the NHS’s Eatwell Guide.

Weight
The risk: It isn’t good for you to be overweight or obese. It can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes as well as developing high blood pressure. Both are linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

What you can do: It’s a good idea to check if your weight is within the healthy range using the NHS’s handy healthy weight calculator.

If you are overweight or obese, it’s important not to get stressed out by it. Even losing 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the excess weight can help lower your risk of dementia.

Exercise
The risk: It’s widely known that a lack of regular physical activity can boost your risk of heart disease, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes – all of which are linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Older people who don’t do enough exercise are more likely to develop problems with their thinking (cognitive ability).

What you can do : It is sensible to adhere to the recommended guidelines of doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. This can be cycling, dancing or even brisk walking. It’s recommended to do strength exercises at least twice a week, which can be done in a fun way such as yoga or gardening.

Try not to sit down for too long every day; it’s best to get up and move around on a regular basis.

Alcohol
The risk: It’s never a good idea to drink a lot of alcohol. Doing so can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease and some cancers. It can also damage your nervous system, including your brain.

What you can do: The recommended limit a week is there for a reason – to help keep you safe. You shouldn’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women.

If you do regularly drink 14 units a week, you should make sure to spread this over three or more days and have a number of alcohol-free days each week.

Smoking
The risk: S moking causes your arteries to become narrower, which can raise your blood pressure. It also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as several types of cancer.

What you can do: If you smoke, try to quit. Visit the NHS Smokefree website, or call the free Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044 for advice and information.

Depression
The risk: The relationship between depression and dementia is notoriously complicated. But it does appear that untreated depression can heighten your risk of developing dementia.

However, it’s important to note that depression can also be a symptom of dementia.

Experiencing a low mood, depression or anxiety can all impact on your ability to be socially active and enjoy mentally stimulating activities.

What you can do: If you’re worried that you, a relative, or a friend could be depressed, make sure to talk to a GP. It is an incredibly common condition and nothing to be ashamed of. The doctor may refer you for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or talking therapy.