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8 Surprising Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

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By    |   Wednesday, 19 Jul 2017 10:51 PM

Memory loss and mental confusion are the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. But long before any noticeable cognitive problems develop, there are often other, seemingly unrelated early signs of disease.

“The science around the use of biological measures in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is evolving rapidly,” says Dr. Keith Fargo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association director of scientific programs and outreach.

Even a seemingly benign condition such as insomnia may be an incipient sign of brain disease, he notes.

“Recent scientific investigations are finding important associations between dementia risk and certain other health concerns, such as sleep problems,” Fargo tells Newsmax Health.

“Further research is needed to understand which of these factors will be useful early indicators of worsening cognitive performance in older adults. It may also help scientists understand whether identifying and treating these factors will be valuable to new Alzheimer’s treatments and prevention.”

Here are eight surprising potential warning signs that you or a loved one may have preclinical Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

Poor sleep: Studies suggest that people with sleep problems and daytime drowsiness are at higher risk. A new study published in the journal Neurology shows that poor sleepers are significantly more likely than sound sleepers to have certain biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease in their spinal fluid. These include:

  • Amyloid and tau, proteins which cause plaques and tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Signs of brain cell damage.
  • Signs of inflammation.

“Based on studies in animals, there is some evidence that the brain increases its capacity to clear toxins during sleep,” says study author Dr. Barbara B. Bendlin, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“In 2013, researchers identified a system called the ‘glymphatic system’ that is involved in clearing amyloid from the brain. While this study hasn't been replicated in humans, it's possible that disrupted sleep, or poor sleep, interferes with the brain's ability to clear amyloid,” Bendlin tells Newsmax Health.

“It's certainly possible that improved sleep could delay the development of Alzheimer's disease, but this is something that needs to be tested. Improving sleep could perhaps serve as another tool for maintaining cognitive health into older age.”

Impaired sense of smell: Growing evidence suggests that decreased ability to correctly identify odors is a predictor of cognitive decline and may be an early clinical sign of the disease, says Fargo.  “There is similar research into whether other biological changes in the body, such as in a person’s blood, saliva, or eyes, can detect future cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s,” he notes.

One recent study of 183 people linked Alzheimer’s risk with an inability to detect 10 common scents: menthol, clove, leather, strawberry, lilac, pineapple, smoke, soap, grape, or lemon.

Another recent study of more than 90 people found those with a confirmed diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s had difficulty smelling a spoonful of peanut butter a short distances from their nose.

According to Fargo and Bendlin, here are other potential early signs of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia include:

  • Mood changes. Depression – especially a first clinical depression that occurs after age 50 – can be a hint of dementia. So are increased anxiety, irritability, frustration, and unwarranted suspicion of other people.
  • Social withdrawal. This includes stopping visits with friends and family, abandoning hobbies and favorite pastimes, and avoiding conversations. One study found people with preclinical Alzheimer’s are 7.5 times more likely to feel lonely than those without any early warning signs of the disease.
  • Decreased or poor judgment. Making poor judgement calls can be an early warning sign – such as giving large amounts of money to telemarketers, dressing inappropriately, or paying less attention to personal hygiene.
  • Criminal or dangerous activity. Previously law-abiding or careful people who start engaging in illegal or dangerous activities, such as stealing, trespassing, or driving erratically may have preclinical frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a disease that affects executive function and the ability to tell right from wrong.
  • A study of 125 older adults shows that those who frequently tripped or fell over an eight-month period were most likely to have early-onset Alzheimer’s. Other research suggests a link between decreased walking speed and a build-up of amyloid in the brain that precedes cognitive impairment.
  • Taste-bud changes. New food cravings, especially a sudden preference for sweets, can be a sign that early Alzheimer’s has damaged parts of the brain that regulate taste buds and appetite. This can lead to bizarre behaviors such as eating expired or rotten food, or even inorganic materials such as paper.

Many researchers believe that such early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia may precede the development of memory loss by a decade or more. Recognizing dementia signs early is critical to treatment, which currently merely slows the progression of the disease.

“One of the things we've learned is that brain changes appear long before symptoms of dementia,” says Bendlin. “So perhaps, one of the most surprising things of all is that there is a long and ‘silent’ phase of the disease. If we could intervene before any symptoms appear, we may have the best chance of preventing dementia.”

Fargo adds: “As researchers continue to test low-cost, non-invasive measures to detect dementia-related brain changes before memory and thinking problems appear, it’s imperative that we educate the public about Alzheimer’s warning signs that they may recognize in themselves and others.”

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Memory loss and mental confusion are the hallmark signs of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. But long before any noticeable cognitive problems develop, there are often other, seemingly unrelated early signs of disease."The science around the use of biological...
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Wednesday, 19 Jul 2017 10:51 PM
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