Before, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease used to have no particular advantage. Fortunately, all that may be about to change as one of the most groundbreaking areas in Alzheimer’s research involves treating patients while they’re in the earliest stages of the disease using drugs that reduce the production of amyloid beta, the proteins responsible for forming harmful plaques in the brain. According to a research done by experts, people actually begin to develop amyloid plaques in their brains at least a decade before the obvious symptoms of dementia arise.
A new clinical trial called A4 study and led by Dr. Reisa Sperling, director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, will evaluate patients proven to have Alzheimer’s damage in the brain but who still possess memory function and normal thinking. The trial will be randomly assigning groups who will receive medication and researchers will determine over a three-year period if the drugs have any effect on the patients’ levels of amyloid or memory function. “When a person already has a lot of memory trouble, they already have significant neuron loss,” says Dr. Sperling. “We need to find and treat people much earlier.”
Here are some subtle and early signs of dementia to watch out for in people.
6) They’re concerned about their memory.
According to studies presented at Alzheimer’s Association conference last year, people who are worried about memory function and thinking were more likely to exhibit Alzheimer’s plaques in their brain and show signs of dementia symptoms later on. According to Rebecca Amariglio, PhD, a neuropsychologist from Harvard, people should trust what they observe about themselves. Frank Jessen, a researcher at the German Center of Neurodegenerative Diseases, also added that it’s common for people to feel something is off before other people begin to notice it.
5) They have trouble remembering recent events.
Failing to remember an important conversation or a significant recent event is a cause for concern, especially if they don’t realize that they’ve forgotten it. “If you remember that you forgot something, like your keys, that means your brain is still trying to access that information,” says Dr. Sperling. Not being able to recall the name of a celebrity in a show but recalling it the next day doesn’t mean that it’s a sign of Alzheimer’s though.
4) They have a hard time managing their finances.
Losing track of things like paying the bills and not being able to maintain enough balance to cover payments can be warning signs for Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Sperling, he always asks his patients about who pays the bills in the household. “If I hear that there’s been a change—say the wife did all the bill paying, but her husband has recently taken over, that’s a concerning find,” says Dr. Sperling.
3) They pass on social events.
One early sign of Alzheimer’s is the inability to follow conversations, especially in a group. Dr. Sperling says that it’s not uncommon to hear from patients that they don’t spend time with their friends as much as they used to as they’re having difficulty in picking up the jokes and conversation.
2) They’ve lost interest in their favorite pastimes.
Another sign of a potential oncoming dementia is when people pass up on their favorite hobbies, like an avid golfer who skips his weekly game or a bridge player who suddenly stops playing with friends. Dr. Sperling says that Alzheimer’s-related changes in a person’s brain can trigger apathy, which causes people to lose motivation. The symptoms may be similar to depression and should be cause for concern, especially if the patient never had depression before.
1) They get lost while driving.
This is a big one especially if the person gets disoriented in a place that’s already a familiar destination. If someone gets confused or have trouble finding their way on a route they’ve driven many times before, it could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
About the A4 Study
Dr. Sperling says that if you know someone exhibiting some of these signs but is still able to live their daily lives fairly well, they’re perfectly qualified as a candidate for participation in the study. Her team is planning to screen as many as 10,000 people in order to identify 1,000 participants to be part of the study. She adds that by stopping the disease in its early stages, complete memory loss due to Alzheimer’s can be prevented. To learn more and find a testing center near you, please visit A4study.org.