Research hints at Alzheimer’s related to biochemical changes

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, September 3, 2011

A brain imaging scan of senior citizens in their 70s and 80s has identified biochemical changes in the brains of normal people who might be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, according to research published in the Aug. 24, 2011, online issue of Neurology.

The study of 311 elderly people with no cognitive problems, from the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, used an advanced brain imaging technique called proton MR spectroscopy to see if they had abnormalities in several brain metabolites that may be biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. They also had PET scans to assess the level of amyloid-beta deposits, or plaques, in the brain that are one of the first signs of changes in the brain due to Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were also given tests of memory, language and other skills.

“There is increasing evidence that Alzheimer disease is associated with changes in the brain that start many years before symptoms develop,” said Jonathan M. Schott, MD, of the Dementia Research Centre.

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“If we could identify people in whom the disease process has started but symptoms have not yet developed, we would have a potential window of opportunity for new treatments — as and when they become available — to prevent or delay the start of memory loss and cognitive decline.”

The study found that 33 percent of the participants had significantly high levels of amyloid-beta deposits in their brains.

The relationship between amyloid-beta deposits and these metabolic changes in the brain are evidence that some of these people may be in the earliest stages of the disease.

More research is needed that follows people over a period of years to determine which of these individuals will actually develop the disease and what the relationship is between the amyloid deposits and the metabolites. At the present time, MR spectroscopy cannot be used for diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s is a very scary disease that none of us desire. At one time or another we have all thought, I wonder if my forgetting is Alzheimer’s. If you would like more information or just have questions about Alzheimer’s, Annie Avery has spent the last 3 years working with individuals with the disease. She can be reached at 433-3462 or stop down to the senior center to see her.

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