MONDAY, Aug. 24, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The brains of people in the very early stages of Alzheimer's disease might become hyperactive to compensate for disease-related deterioration, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic tested 69 mentally healthy adults, two-thirds of whom were at risk for Alzheimer's disease because of family history or genetic markers. Functional MRI was used to monitor the participants' brains as they were asked if they recognized the names of famous celebrities and unfamiliar people. The brain activity of at-risk people was compared with that of those not at risk for Alzheimer's.
"Our results indicate that even though this was a relatively easy and low-effort test, there was increased activation of certain parts of the brain in at-risk individuals," principal investigator Stephen Rao said in a news release from the clinic. "This may reflect a compensatory brain response by these participants to the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease."
The findings are published in the current issue of Neurology.
Rao said that functional MRI scans might eventually be used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease in the early stages, which could lead to improved treatment.
"Studies have shown if we can delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease by five years, we will reduce the incidence by 50 percent," Rao said. "If we can delay the onset by 10 years, Alzheimer's disease will virtually be eliminated because people will have passed away for some other reason."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about the stages and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.