Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia afflicting the global population.
It is such a widespread disease that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the symptoms associated with it – confusion, mood swings, language deterioration, and eventually long-term memory loss. One of the main issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease is the difficulty of diagnosis. Often the early symptoms are missed, or attributed to aging and stress. However, scientists have found a possible region of the brain that may help diagnose those at risk earlier.
The Medical Research Council team, led by Dr GwenaÎlle Douaud of Oxford University, studied 484 brain scans of healthy volunteers between the ages of eight and 85. These revealed a common pattern – that the parts of the brain that are the last to develop are the first to show age related deterioration. The region most associated with this is the one that co-ordinates ‘higher order’ information. This is the region of the brain that deals with coordinating the information from the five senses (although primarily sight and sound) in a way that means we can process it and make sense of our surroundings.
Interestingly, the same regions of the brain are implicated in schizophrenia. This provides evidence for a theory that some scientists have held for a while ñ that Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia may share common ground.
There are many possible clinical uses for this new information. One may be the ability to diagnose people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s throughout their life – although it has been warned that a lot more research will be needed in order to provide accurate information on this front. Also, now that this region of the brain has been identified, it may be possible to see how environmental and genetic factors play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lastly, with regard to schizophrenia, it may be possible to differentiate between patients who will have a good and a poor prognosis. At the moment, it is very difficult to predict.
This research may have excellent prospects for clinical uses in two diseases that can devastate people’s lives – Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. We will have to wait and see whether this is all it promises to be.