Posted January 11, 2017
Many people worry about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, an insidious disease that silently attacks the brain, affecting thinking and memory. Currently, there is no known cure or treatment to stop it. But new studies show that regular exercise may lower the risk and blood tests can detect the early signs.
Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center and the University of Pittsburg evaluated over 800 adults around 78 years old in a cardiovascular health study, focusing on memory and daily physical activity.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests, scientists observed changes in brain size of people who participated in physical activities, such as gardening, dancing or using a fitness machine. These adults showed increases in brain volume, especially in the hippocampus area associated with memory, and the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes. So, it’s believed that these active adults have a 50 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s. And for patients who showed early signs of Alzheimer’s, physical activity also increased their brain size.
Scientists worldwide have been studying blood samples to detect Alzheimer’s at an early stage. Here’s an overview of two studies:
Analyzing blood proteins – Comparing blood samples of 174 adults, researchers at the National Institute on Aging isolated a brain protein called IRS-1, which is important in insulin production and is commonly defective in people with Alzheimer’s. Results showed that 84 people were healthy, but 70 had Alzheimer’s and 20 had diabetes. They discovered that adults with Alzheimer’s had higher inactive forms of the protein compared to healthy adults.
The good news is that the results were so consistent researchers believe they can use the blood test to predict Alzheimer’s 10 years before symptoms occur with 100 percent accuracy.
Examining microRNA molecules – In another study at the University of Otago in New Zealand, scientists focused on microRNA brain molecules. While comparing these molecules in the blood of healthy adults and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, researchers discovered these levels do vary. So, a doctor would need to look at each blood sample and look for patterns.
Scientists acknowledge more research is needed to determine whether the molecule difference is an accurate indicator of Alzheimer’s. However, they believe that for adults who show signs of memory loss, they can use this blood test to predict Alzheimer’s with 86 percent accuracy.