Once a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is made, it is often already too late to alter its course. Identifying the early signs of this type of disease would in particular prevent the risk of developing one.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the world, but it remains incurable. If the pathophysiological processes of neurodegenerative diseases begin years before the appearance of the first symptoms, it is often much too late to modify the course of the disease in question. Thus, disease-modifying therapies and prevention strategies are currently ineffective. One of the possible solutions would consist in better taking into account the pre-diagnostic phase, as early as possible.
In addition to pathological biomarkers, it is likely that cognitive changes and changes in daily functions may appear upstream of a neurodegenerative disease. This is what researchers from the University of Cambridge sought to find out in a study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
A rich set of prospective cognitive and functional data
They used the UK Biobank, a biomedical database that includes anonymous information on the genetics, lifestyle and health of half a million Britons aged 40-69. In addition to health information, several aspects of cognition and daily function were collected: problem solving, memory, reaction times, grip strength, weight change, number of falls , etc. ” This offers a rich set of prospective cognitive and functional data from a large number of individuals, some of whom have developed neurodegenerative disease. “, write the authors of the study.
The English scientists have shown that it is possible to detect signs of brain impairment in patients between five and nine years before the diagnosis of one of the dementia-related diseases. For example, people who developed Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia (a rare form of dementia) performed worse than healthy people on problem-solving tasks, reaction times, memorizing lists of numbers, prospective memory (our ability to remember what to do later), and pair matching.
For all pathologies, the overall health status of patients at baseline was worse than that of healthy people. ” When we reviewed the patient histories, it became clear that they had cognitive impairment for several years before their symptoms became evident enough to prompt a diagnosis. “Summarizes in a statement from the university Dr. Nol Swaddiwudhipong, co-author of the study.
Identify people at risk and find effective treatments
” It’s a step forward in being able to identify those most at risk—for example, people over 50 or those with high blood pressure or not exercising enough—and intervening an earlier stage to help them reduce their risk “, he continues.
These results could also help identify suitable people to be recruited for clinical trials of new treatments. Identifying these people early enough would make it possible to see whether or not the drugs tested are effective.