Early Alzheimer's Disease detection starts with MRI

Confused by the monthly bills, or forgetting how to use the microwave are potentially early signs of Alzheimer's disease. 

As experts search for a cause and a cure and families struggle, a new study finds a brain scan can be very valuable. 

Measuring tiny changes in the brain, a functional MRI may notice some changes as Alzheimer's begins to emerge, that can help doctors analyze treatments.

Dr. Stephen Rao of the Cleveland Clinic, talked about the benefits of MRI testing.

"We can use functional magnetic resonance imaging that looks at the brain's response to the memory system and use that information to determine whether the intervention is working," he said.

Rao at the Cleveland Clinic and a team of researchers divided 45 people into two groups. One was at high risk for developing Alzheimer's disease and the other was at low-risk, but nobody was showing signs of the disease.

A functional MRI was done on each of their brains over a five-year period.

They found that in the high-risk group, brain activity decreased over time as the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease began emerging.

In contrast, the low-risk group demonstrated increases in brain activity that compensated for normal aging changes.

It was as if the brain was building a reserve.

Rao says functional MRI may be able to show us the way the brain copes with neurological damage at different stages of Alzheimer's disease.

It may also be used to start treating Alzheimer's disease before a person has symptoms.

"If you institute a treatment during the pre-symptomatic phase, it is much more likely to be successful to delay the progression," Rao said.

The study is published in the journal NeuroImage. 

Currently there's no cure for Alzheimer's but there are drug and non-drug treatments to help with cognitive or behavioral symptoms to improve quality of life. 

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