News / Health

MRI Sees Brain Atrophy Years Before Alzheimer's Symptoms

Discovery might lead to early treatment

MRI scans can detect signs of Alzheimer's in the brain years before symptoms appear.
MRI scans can detect signs of Alzheimer's in the brain years before symptoms appear.


Art Chimes

Memory loss and mental confusion are the first overt signs of Alzheimer's Disease, an incurable and fatal brain ailment.

But scientists are starting to find evidence of the disease long before symptoms appear. In the latest research, MRI scans show telltale signs in the brain a decade before memory and thinking are affected.

The pace of research aimed at understanding and preventing or treating Alzheimer's has been frustratingly slow.

A number of medicines have reached the market in recent years, but at best they only slow the progression of the disease.

Some researchers think that drugs may be more effective if they're given sooner, before symptoms become apparent.

A researcher at Harvard Medical School, Bradford Dickerson, is exploring an imaging technique that can identify characteristics of the brain that might signal the mental decline to come years later.

"So we wanted to test MRI, which is something that we think would potentially be more accessible to people if we end up needing to screen large groups of older subjects for these kinds of changes," Dickerson says.

In a new study, Dickerson and his colleagues studied a group of men and women starting when they were in their 70s. At the outset, they were given standard tests, and all of them showed normal memory and mental function. They also got an MRI scan of the brain.

Around 10 years later, the participants - now in their 80s - were again tested, and now about one out of four showed symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Going back to the MRI results from a decade or so earlier, the researchers found differences between the group who still had normal memory and those who were cognitively impaired, differences in Alzheimer's-related parts of the brain.

"And it turned out that those areas of the brain were, in subtle ways, smaller in the people who were cognitively normal but over the next eight years or so eventually developed Alzheimer's dementia than the same areas in the brains of people who remained cognitively normal over that period of time."

For now, this is just a research finding, but Dickerson sees a time in the not-too-distant future when doctors will tell people of a certain age with no symptoms that it's time to get tested for Alzheimer's.

"I believe that at some point in the next decade or so, we're going to see tests being proposed to be used as screening tools, sort of like colonoscopies are used," Dickerson says. "So that once you get past a certain age, you would undergo this screening test. And I think this MRI method has at least some plausibility to be one of those kinds of screening tools."

And the hope is that drugs in use now or yet to be developed will make a significant difference when taken before memory and mental function begin to decline.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs