People with Alzheimer’s may not lose their memory during the early stages of the illness

Researchers from Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic find other indicators about the beginning of Alzheimer’s. They recommend using alternative biomarkers to get an early diagnosis.


May 17, 2011 11:06 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Using alternative biomarkers other than those related to memory loss can lead to Alzheimer’s early diagnosis. A study by researchers from the Hospital Clínic, in Barcelona, have found that Alzheimer’s early diagnosis in people younger than 60 years old and without memory blackouts was not easy to reach. The team coordinated by Albert Lladó identified common patterns by analysing brain cells from 40 patients sharing these two characteristics. They found that a third of Alzheimer’s early diagnosed patients did not have memory loss. In addition, they find other shared indicators and concluded that other biomarkers could give hints for an early diagnosis. Symptoms such as having difficulties speaking correctly, abandoning some social habits, behaving in a ruder way, paying less attention to personal hygiene or losing sight are some of the symptoms shared by some of the patients analysed. The study was published this Tuesday in ‘Neurology’, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States lead the medical tests using biomarkers for Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but they are not conclusive yet. A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s early stage still requires a pathological study, which is made through examining the patient’s brain after a premature death. Hospital Clínic’s researchers have analysed 40 samples from the centre’s Neurological Tissue Bank. The studied brain tissues were from patients who had suffered from Alzheimer under the age of 60. In a third of the cases, the illness’ first symptoms had nothing to do with memory loss. “It was already known that some patients who had Alzheimer’s first symptoms had nothing to do with memory loss”, explains Lladó, “but in this study the percentage of patients with other alterations was 37%”.

The illness is “very rare” in people younger than 50 years old, but from this age onwards, it is not so rare. The fact that the patients are relatively young and that they do not have memory loss makes diagnosis very difficult, and many times it comes very late. In half of the cases studied, it actually came too late. The Hospital Clinic unit pointed out that, in those cases, biomarkers would have been very useful for an early diagnosis. The biomarkers analyse biological samples that detect the illness, with great precision, and also while the patient is alive.

More people will be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s sufferers

4% of 65 year old Catalans suffer from Alzheimer’s, but their diagnosis is not easy as they are still relatively young. Alzheimer’s is the most common neurodegenerative illness in developed countries. Its most well-known characteristic is the loss of memory, followed by a progressive deterioration of cognitive abilities that leads ultimately to death. The patient’s symptoms are caused by progressive cell degeneration in some specific brain areas cause by senile plaques and TAU protein. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 18 million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the world. It is a figure that presumably will have risen to 34 million in 2025. “This will not mean there are more ill people, but that more people are diagnosed thanks to medical advancements”, explains Lladó, from the Hospital Clínic’s Alzheimer’s unit and other cognitive disorders. Alzheimer’s has no cure yet, and the patient’s only receive treatment for their symptoms. However, Lladó is optimistic and thinks that a treatment will be found “soon”. He also emphasised that advancing in early diagnosis is also a very important way to fight the illness and be ready when the treatment becomes available.