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Changes in the brain could be detected decade before Alzheimer's symptoms are seen

Published 14 April 2011

Brain shrinkage could act as an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease around 10 years before symptoms begin to be seen according to a study published in Neurology.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston and Rush University in Chicago used MRI scans to measure the thickness of parts of an area of the brain called the cortex in 65 people. Thinning of the cortex is a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

They divided participants into groups of high, average and low thickness measurements. Of the 11 in the lowest size category, 55% went on to develop Alzheimer's, compared to 20% of the average and none of the high. 

Alzheimer's Society comment:

'We have known for some time that changes in the brain can happen a long time before a person starts showing symptoms. Research such as this is helping us build on our understanding of where these changes happen and how early. However, while these latest results are significant, it is a small sample size and we are still some way from being able to say for certain which people will go on to develop Alzheimer's.

There are 750,000 people living with dementia in the UK yet dementia research is still desperately underfunded. If we are to move closer to understanding the causes and finding a cure we must invest now.'

Dr Anne Corbett
Research Manager
Alzheimer's Society