A new non-invasive test can detect Alzheimer's in patients before their symptoms are noticeable, a study claims.
The report's researchers from the University of Zagreb in Croatia say the biomarker is 'ideal' because it has so far proved to be 100 percent accurate.
Millions of Americans live with Alzheimer's, which is a form of dementia that can eventually kill patients diagnosed with the disease.
No cure exists for Alzheimer's, but treatments can lessen the disease's symptoms. The new study's researchers are hopeful that their report can help doctors diagnose and treat the illness more efficiently.
A new biomarker for Alzheimer's disease has been discovered, and it can be detected before the onset of the disease's symptoms (file photo)
WHO IS AFFECTED BY ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?
The CDC has reported that in 2013, five million Americans had Alzheimer's.
However, by 2050 this number is supposed to nearly triple, hitting 14 million.
The disease is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the US, coming in fifth among people aged 65 to 85.
The symptoms usually appear when a person is around 60 years old.
Researchers believe that genetics play a role in the disease's onset, and they are also studying whether or not diet and environmental factors influence who is diagnosed with it.
Unlike the death rates for cancer and heart disease, that of Alzheimer's is rising.
The study's authors who worked on the new research classified the spread of Alzheimer's as 'one of the biggest global public health challenges facing this generation'.
The disease's death rate in the US is rising, which could be a sign of the rising life expectancy rate, as the disease's symptoms do not usually begin until after middle-age.
Experts are studying ways to detect the disease's onset in cognitively intact individuals, with the hope that these traces of the illness might be reversible.
'Researchers around the world are hunting for accurate ways to identify people in these beginning stages, as catching it early could offer a vital opportunity to treat the underlying disease and delay or even totally prevent the onset of dementia,' Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer's Society said.
He added that the disease can progress for a more than a decade before patients experience dementia.
Heretofore, doctors have only been able to diagnose Alzheimer's based on the symptoms a patient reports experiencing, as no test can reveal whether or not the patient has the disease.
Doctors were only able to confirm a patient's diagnosis after a post-mortem exam gave them a look at their brain.
However, this study's researchers have found a way to accurately test someone for the disease without being able to see their brain.
For the study, researchers performed neurological exams on 20 individuals who were aged 63 to 87. Half of the participants had normal cognitive ability, though they self-reported this characteristic, and the rest had signs of cognitive impairment.
Researchers used a tool called Magnetoencephalography (MEG), which is an imaging technique, to evaluate the patients.
They found that the prefrontal regions of healthy participants' brains reacted to the tests they performed. However, the same regions in the brains of participants who had symptoms linked to Alzheimer's were not activated.
Dr Sanja Josef Golubic, who worked on the report, spoke about the significance of this early detection.
'It is highly probable that these individuals were captured in a preclinical AD phase since they show both neuropsychological and neurophysiological impairments characteristic of an AD type of dementia,' Dr Josef Golubic said.
However, Dr Brown said that while the new report is hopeful, it does not provide hard evidence of a diagnostic technique yet. 'It's far to early to draw any firm conclusions,' he explained.
The results of the study were published in the journal of Human Brain Mapping.
The study was funded by the NIH, the Department of Energy, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Institute of General Medicinal Sciences and the Croatian Ministry of Sciences.