A new and ‘exceptionally accurate’ test can predict if a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease within the next two years.
The combined brain scan and memory exam has a 90 per cent accuracy rate in determining whether people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) will go on to develop Alzheimer’s.
Currently the disease is often diagnosed late, sometimes up to ten years after the first pathological changes in the brain.
Earlier diagnosis means patients can have treatment that could delay or stave off brain changes, say researchers at the University of Montreal, Canada.
Forty-five patients with MCI were given recall and recognition tasks – both very good indicators of dementia.
They were also given brain scans. Images that showed thinning in some areas of the brain proved to be very predictive of those at risk.
MCI is the intermediate stage between the normal memory loss that comes with ageing and early Alzheimer’s disease. It does not automatically lead to developing Alzheimer’s.
Sylvie Belleville, professor of psychology at the University of Montreal, said: ‘It is when combining and analysing the results from both methods that we could achieve such an exceptional level of accuracy.
The clinical benefits of these extra two years are enormous.’
Prof Belleville, a director of research at the university, said 'For the moment, we can't diagnose this disease very early due to the lack of reliable protocols.
'Thus, there is a risk of erroneously identifying the disease when trying to diagnose it too early.
'Identifying markers that correctly predict the subsequent onset of more severe symptoms that are sensitive and specific considerably reduces the uncertainty of early diagnosis.
'The innovation here is showing that two different approaches can be combined to aid in diagnosis.'
Jessica Smith, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said it could one day help the 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK. But she called for more money to be invested in research.