Healthy living

Brain scans used to spot Alzheimer's before symptoms appear

Brain scans used to spot Alzheimer s before symptoms appear Detects brain shrinkage

Brain scans can help predict Alzheimer's disease up to 10 years before symptoms appear, a study suggests.

Researchers used MRI scans to measure the thickness of parts of an area of the brain called the cortex in people without memory problems or any other signs of the disease. Thinning of the cortex is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

The 65 participants were then tracked for between either seven or eleven years to see who developed the disease.

Among people with average cortex measurements, 20 per cent went on to have Alzheimer's.

However, 55 per cent of people with the thinnest cortex measurements developed the disease, while none of those with the highest measurements developed dementia.

"We also found that those who express this MRI marker of the Alzheimer's disease in the brain were three times more likely to develop dementia over the following 10 years than those with higher measurements," said Dr Bradford Dickerson at Harvard Medical School, who led the study.

"These are preliminary results that are not ready to be applied outside of research studies right now, but we are optimistic that this marker will be useful in the future."

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "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."

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

This article was published on Thu 14 April 2011

Image © James Steidl -

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