Hypochondriacs should consider themselves highly warned: the following study has uncovered some deeply unsettling facts about the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently, even though this mental disorder is usually identified in older patients, it can appear even 18 years before the official diagnose is given.
What’s the most unsettling is the fact that making mistakes during regular thinking and memory tests could represent a serious red flag of the disease. More than 2,000 people – age average of 73 – took part in the study conducted by Kumar Rajan from the Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.
Published in the journal Neurology, the study consisted in giving the participants thinking and memory tests every three years, for 18 years. Volunteers were either African-American or European-American, and at the beginning of the study, none of them had received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Before the study was ended, 17 and 23 percent of European-Americans and African-Americans, respectively, had developed Alzheimer’s. Results showed that scoring badly on the memory skill test in the first year meant the participant had 10 times more chances of developing symptoms consistent with the disease.
Rajan explained that obvious signs of Alzheimer’s usually appear in old age, but changing in the brain’s cognitive center responsible with memory and clear thinking start being affected by the disease years – even decades – before.
The medical community has yet to find a way to detect the changes in the brain before the complete onset of the disease, but observing them in a group of individuals who eventually developed Alzheimer’s has certainly helped them gain a better understanding of what changes and when.
At the 13th year of follow-up testing, researchers discovered the most important details of the study. During that time, weak performance in memory tests became associated with 85 percent greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Weak performance was measured in units that dropped under the average score.
Results suggested that biological and physical changes in the body happen before thinking or memory impairment is typically recognized. Rajan said that a better understanding of how the disease can be prevented should focus on how these processes alter during middle age.
Alzheimer’s Disease International reports that almost 44 million people worldwide battle dementia related disease, and Alzheimer’s in particular. Women seem to be more prone to developing the disease, as they represent roughly two-thirds of the affected patients.
Estimations presented by the Alzheimer’s Association show that women over 65-years-old have one in 6 chances of developing the disease, whereas men have one in 11. A previous assumption that is now under scrutiny is that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s because they have a longer life expectancy.
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