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Plaque Linked to Alzheimer's Found in Middle Age: February 28, 2012

Alzheimer’s disease is hitting painfully close to home for Dru Hanni.

“I do have a stepmother who is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and to see her forget her children, her name, how to change her socks, you know it’s terrible.”

Though it’s older adults who most struggle with Alzheimer’s, researchers are setting their sights lower, looking for traces of the disease in middle age. Dr. Michael Raab specializes in the aging brain.

“They’re finding that when they do a special type of scan of the brain, which is still experimental, that they can find evidence of an accumulation of a substance called beta-amyloid in the brain, many years before people have any memory or other cognitive problems,” says Dr. Raab, a geriatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

This brain-clotting plaque may set the stage for illness later in life. Early findings are creating a new line of research.

“It’s a two prong approach. We’re looking for identifying, early markers and then using medicine treatments, chemicals to try and change those markers,” says Dr. Raab.

The prospect of identifying someone who may develop Alzheimer’s is a double-edge sword. There is still no cure but in the years it would take the disease to develop, there could be.

Using PET scans, researchers looked at 3-D color images showing function inside the brain. Dru would like to know if has pre-Alzheimer’s conditions.

“Seeing the effects it does take on other people it’s a devastating disease so pre-screening absolutely is in the front of my mind.”

“It’s more complicated than the fact that they can find beta-amyloid build up in young people on these scans. Nobody really knows what that means yet because we have to see over the next 30 years what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Raab.

The hope is by¬† knowing enough about the disease, doctors can someday make Alzheimer’s a thing of the past.