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Mental Changes Show Up Long Before Alzheimer's Develops


The study confirms the notion that changes that eventually result in Alzheimer's disease are going on years before the disease is diagnosed, says Paul Fishman, MD, a professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who commented on the study for WebMD. "The question from a public-health perspective is, Can we identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer's at an early date, particularly if we have an intervention that can slow or prevent the disease? If so, tests such as these might be really useful," he says.

Knowing who is at risk of developing the disease can also help researchers assess the effectiveness of treatments, Fishman says: "For example, we know that vitamin E may be beneficial in some people with Alzheimer's disease, but how much more beneficial might it be earlier in the disease? If we can identify those at risk, we have a potential population in whom testing interventions might make sense."

Elias says the long-term study is already giving researchers some ideas about potential interventions.

"The Framingham Study is providing us with a lot of interesting associations between cognitive impairment and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes," he says. "These are conditions where people can control or reduce their risk factors by watching their diet, controlling their high blood pressure, and exercising, for example. If we can make a connection between mental function and these behaviors, it would be a powerful stimulus for people to change their lifestyle to reduce their risk."

For more information from WebMD, visit our Diseases and Conditions Alzheimer's page.

Vital Information:

  • In a recent study, researchers found that changes in mental functions may predict whether a person will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease.
  • Tests of logical reasoning, retention of information, and abstract reasoning were all indicators of risk for Alzheimer's disease. But scoring poorly on these tests does not guarantee that a person will develop the disease.
  • Predicting who will get Alzheimer's may be an important tool one day, if researchers can develop treatments to prevent or slow the disease's progression.
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