Alzheimer’s disease can be detected in apparently healthy people by carrying out brain scans and spinal fluid testing, according to a new study.
Researchers believe the study into early diagnosis of the disease could lead to a more effective pre-emptive treatment.
The research involved 105 people who appeared outwardly free of dementia.
All of the people who took part in the study were in their seventies and eighties.
The group was split into two groups - one with high levels of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) amyloid, and other with low levels. Alzheimer’s patients tend to have lower levels of CSF.
Over a period of 12 months, magnetic resonance imaging scans were conducted to measure the rates of brain shrinkage.
The results showed that the brains of people with low CSF amyloid levels, 38% of the group, shrank twice as quickly as those with higher levels.
These individuals were also five times more likely to possess the Alzheimer’s risk factor gene, APOE4, and had higher levels of another protein linked to the disease, called tau.
Study leader Dr Jonathan Schott, from University College London’s Institute of Neurology, said: “In this study of healthy people in their seventies and eighties we found that about one in three had a spinal fluid profile consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Using MRI scanning, we showed that these individuals also had increased brain shrinkage over the following year.
“The significance of these findings will only be clear with longer clinical follow-up but may suggest that these individuals are at increased risk of developing dementia. If so these results add to a growing body of work suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease starts many years before the onset of symptoms.”
The findings are published online in the journal Annals of Neurology.