New research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association last month demonstrated that patients show declines in cognition, grip strength, and overall health up to several years before being diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder.
Researchers gathered data from UK Biobank, a health information database with records for 500,000 adult residents (age 40-69) of the UK who were recruited between 2006 and 2010, and compared several measures of cognition and memory, weight changes, number of falls, and grip strength for patients with and without a neurogenerative disorder.
Of the half million patients, 2778 had Alzheimer’s disease, 211 had frontotemporal dementia, 2370 had Parkinson’s disease, 133 were diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, 40 had dementia with Lewy bodies, and 73 were diagnosed with multiple system atrophy. The 493,735 patients not diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder served as the control group.
“When we looked back at patients’ histories, it became clear that they were showing some cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms became obvious enough to prompt a diagnosis. The impairments were often subtle, but across a number of aspects of cognition,” said the primary study author Nol Swaddiwudhipong.
For example, patients with Alzheimer’s disease showed evidence of decreased fluid intelligence, slower reaction times, and poorer prospective and numeric memory in the years prior to diagnosis. Patients with Parkinson’s had worse overall health and demonstrated weakening grip strength in both hands in the years prior to diagnosis.
Researchers hope the approach of screening patients for cognitive and functional decline, along with testing for disease-specific biomarkers, will help identify patients who are candidates for clinical trials of disease-preventing or -modifying therapies.