Alzheimer's disease has no cure and no known treatment that can prevent or delay its onset. The condition, still not fully understood, has been tied to a number of possible risk factors; ranging from lack of mental exercise to poor dental health.

But since the disease is so hard to detect, and its exact causes remain unknown, preventative treatment is next to impossible. Fortunately, researchers realize how important early action is in decreasing the severity of the disease, and new studies have been able to determine the earliest signs of Alzheimer's development.

Building A Timeline

Knowing it is crucial to ensure the earliest possible treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease, researchers have been examining patients earlier and earlier for possible warning signs. Some of the latest progress has been to establish a timeline beginning as early as 25 years before the initial onset of dementia, in an effort to identify the early indicators of the disease, and work to halt the body's mechanisms before the condition fully develops.

Scientists isolated a group of 128 people, all from families who carried a high risk of certain inherited genes known to lead to Alzheimer's disease. From their research, the group at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis put together a hypothetical timeline, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Signs Of Early Onset Alzheimer's

The first sign can manifest as early as 25 years before a patient displays the first symptoms of dementia—a drop in levels of beta amyloids within the spinal fluid. Beta amyloids are a kind of protein that causes a plaque buildup in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer's disease. This is easily detectable with modern technology.

The next sign, 10 years later and 15 years before the first onset of the disease, is the detection of these beta amyloids forming in clumps around the brain. This is detected via brain scans, and is also accompanied by shrinking brain structures, and a rise of a toxic “tau" protein in the spinal fluid.

When the onset of the disease is about 10 years away, medical professionals can observe a drop in the brain's efficiency of using glucose. At this point, very mild difficulty in memory-related tasks can be observed.

Future Studies

Rsearchers are hopeful that the discovery of more “early indicators" will not only help identify warning signs of developing the condition, but also grant more insight into how the disease manifests and operates within the body.

If scientists can fully understand the root causes of Alzheimer's, they can work to find an effective treatment—both to prevent the disease from developing at all and to fight against it in patients who have already developed it.