The neurological decline that leads to Alzheimer’s may begin in middle-age and could be predicted with a simple to administer test.
The study, led by Professor David Bunce of the Centre for Mental Health Research at The Australian National University and Brunel University, has revealed that some apparently healthy adults living in the community aged between 44 and 48 years have minute white matter lesions in areas of their brains similar to those found in persons with Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
A further breakthrough generated as part of this research has allowed scientists to more easily predict which individuals may develop these lesions, through a simple-to-administer measure of attention.
The results suggest that the neurological decline thought to lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease may begin much earlier in people’s lives than was originally thought.
The work is published in the open-access journal PLoS One.
"Although we cannot be certain that these middle-aged people will go on to get dementia, the results are important for several reasons," said Professor Bunce.
"First, the study is one of the first to show that lesions in areas of the brain that deteriorate in dementia are present in some adults aged in their 40s.
"Second, although the presence of the lesions was confirmed through MRI scans, we were able to predict those persons who had them through very simple to administer measures of attention tests.
"Finally, if the findings are repeated in laboratories elsewhere, the study lays open possibilities for screening, early detection and intervention in healthcare settings. The earlier we can intervene with people vulnerable to eventual dementia, the greater the chances of preventing or delaying the disease onset."
The researchers’ paper, ‘Cognitive Deficits are associated with Frontal and Temporal Lobe White Matter Lesions in Middle-Aged Adults Living in the Community’ is published in the open-access journal PLoSONE (Public Library of Science-ONE). Read a copy of the paper.
Note to Editors
For interviews: Professor David Bunce at ANU, Canberra, Australia
Tel 00 61 2 6125 0108
Professor Bunce is a Psychology Professor at Brunel University. He is currently working at ANU as a visiting professorial fellow. The paper arises from work in collaboration with colleagues at ANU.
For media assistance:
Danielle Chubb, ANU Media, Canberra, Australia
Tel 00 61 2 6125 7988 / 0416 249 241
Brunel University Press Office
Tel 01895 265585/ 01895 26970
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Extract from research paper on the participants
This cohort of the PATH Through Life Project comprised 2,530 individuals aged 44–48 years who were residents of the city of Canberra and surrounding areas, and were recruited randomly through the electoral roll.
Enrolment to vote is compulsory for Australian citizens. A randomly selected subsample of 656 participants was offered an MRI scan, of which 503 accepted, and 431 (85.7%) eventually completed.
There were no differences in age, sex and years of education between those who had an MRI scan and those who did not.