Skip to main content

Biomarkers could identify Alzheimer's disease years ahead of symptoms

August 19, 2013

Of all the challenges associated with Alzheimer's disease and memory care, one of the most significant is that it's extremely difficult to catch the condition early. While there is still no known cure for the disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans, an early diagnosis may help patients mitigate some of the symptoms. Now, new research from the CSIC Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona suggests there may be a potential biomarker that could indicate the presence of Alzheimer's years before any outward signs are present. 

Secret in cerebral spinal fluid
The results were published recently in Annals of Neurology and are based on an extensive analysis of cerebral spinal fluid. Specifically, researchers found that a decrease in a person's mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) often indicated Alzheimer's. Scientists speculate this relationship exists in large part because a lack of mtDNA hinders the body's ability to power neurons, and as a result, these all-important brain cells begin to die. Lower levels of mtDNA would precede the development of many early hallmarks of Alzheimer's, including the presence of tau proteins. The research team is hopeful their findings could have a significant impact on senior care.

"If our initial findings can be replicated by other laboratories, the results will change the way we currently think about the causes of Alzheimer's disease," said lead author Dr. Ramon Trullas. "This discovery may enable us to search for more effective treatments that can be administered during the preclinical stage."

Notice the warning signs
While the research is encouraging, there remain few options when it comes to early diagnosis of Alzheimer's. However, that's not to say that there isn't the potential to catch it as quickly as possible, and much of this has to do with recognizing the early outward symptoms. According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are a number of warning signs that go beyond the widely-known symptom of  memory loss.

Although memory problems that interfere with daily life are a serious symptom, it's not the only thing to be on the lookout for. Perhaps most significantly, confusion with time and place should serve as a big red flag. Additionally, if seniors encounter problems with writing, speaking or following a conversation it could be indicative of Alzheimer's disease. Worsening judgment and changes to mood and personality are also warning signs.