What are Alzheimer's early symptoms?

An extensive statistical study conducted by a group of researchers found ten early signs that appear many years before Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed. What are they?

 Alzheimer's disease (illustrative). (photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Alzheimer's disease (illustrative).
(photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

As people get older, more and more studies are trying to detect the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, even ones that may appear 15 years before its onset to stop or delay it in the future.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Aramis project, in collaboration with the Paris Brain Institute, analyzed anonymous health records from approximately 80,000 patients. The scientists identified ten pathologies that were seen more frequently in patients who reported dementia within 15 years than by other patients of the same age. Results were published in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Digital Health.

Despite the growing number of findings, knowledge about the risk factors and early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease remains incomplete.

To date, no exhaustive study has been conducted on a very large enough sample of patients to determine possible risk factors long before an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Now, for the first time, a team of researchers accessed anonymous medical data from nearly 40,000 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and from the same number of subjects in the control group who didn’t develop degenerative diseases during the study period.

PET scans showing the differences between a healthy older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease (credit: Wikimedia Commons)PET scans showing the differences between a healthy older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The research from the Armis team, working with mathematical models, has made it possible to analyze data without predetermined hypotheses, and to examine the possible link between the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and 123 health factors. Statistical studies of historical medical records yielded a list of the 10 most common conditions experienced by patients who will develop Alzheimer’s within 15 years.

What are the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Depression topped the list, followed by anxiety, exposure to high pressure, hearing loss, constipation, inflammation of neck vertebrae, memory loss, fatigue with malaise, and sudden weight loss.  

Thomas Nedelec, PHD, a researcher at the Institut du Cerveau-Paris Brain Institute, said: "The conclusions formed allowed us to confirm known connections, such as hearing problems or depression, and other lesser known causes or early symptoms, such as spondylosis of the neck or constipation. However, we only report statistical relationships. 

“These will have to be the subject of further research to understand the underlying mechanisms.” 

The question remains, though, whether the health problems researchers see are risk factors, symptoms or warning signs of the disease. 

Although the results of the study still need to be refined, they are already valuable for healthcare professionals and others involved in prevention methods, who can try to treat these risk factors as soon as they’re discovered and hopefully prevent this very complex disease.