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New clue might help predict Alzheimer's

NEW YORK (CNN) -- For the first time, researchers say they have found an important clue through the use of a brain scan that could make it possible to predict whether a healthy, elderly person is going to develop a precursor to Alzheimer's disease, known as mild cognitive impairment.

"This study is the first study ever to show that there are changes in the brain in normal people that will predict a worsening of their memory performance," said Dr. Mony De Leon, NYU Medical Center's Center for Brain Health.

The change is a dwindling of glucose metabolism in a small part of the brain, known to be a memory center. Glucose has been described as fuel to the brain.

"The imaging results show that we can make predictions among normal people as to who is going to develop memory impairment. It does not tell us at this point whether those memory impairments are caused by Alzheimer's," said De Leon.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  

The study included 48 healthy elderly people who were an average age of 72. During the three years of the study, memory decline was seen in 13 patients. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other researchers say this latest finding is all part of a puzzle that they believe will ultimately lead to an early diagnostic tool. Scientists have long known a part of the brain called the hippocampus shrinks in Alzheimer's patients and they're using various imaging techniques to learn more about other changes in the brain.

"We're all trying to find ways to identify people who are going to have decline before they do, because in a decade we may have an effective treatment to prevent further decline," said Dr. Marilyn Albert, Massachusetts General. "This publication is one of a number that indicates that we might be able to use imaging to test for this. This finding would need to be shown in other similar groups."

Researchers say the only way to get these answers is to do further studies.

"It's extremely important that Americans who are healthy consider volunteering for participation in studies in medical schools so that we can understand more about the aging processes not only of the brain but other organs," said De Leon.

• Alzheimer's Association
• Alzheimer's Disease International
• Emory Alzheimer's Disease Center

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