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Researchers say brain shows changes 20 years prior to Alzheimer's symptoms

Mark Moran

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(Iowa News Service) Researchers in Iowa say changes in an Alzheimer's patients' brain can occur at least 20 years before they are diagnosed with the disease and they are calling for more education about early warning signs of dementia during Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month.

There are at least 7 million people age 65 and older in the U.S. living with Alzheimer's and 62,000 of them are in Iowa.

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Abby Miesner, development manager for the Alzheimer's Association of Iowa, said despite time and money being spent on research, the risk is going up at a younger age and the numbers are discouraging.

"The lifetime risk for Alzheimer's at age 45 is one in five for women, and one in 10 for men," Miesner pointed out.

Miesner noted the numbers hold true across the board for Blacks and Latinos as well. She adds as doctors have learned signs and symptoms could start to occur at an earlier age, they are paying attention to signs sooner.

Miesner explained occasionally misplacing your keys or forgetting why you went into a room are not always cause for concern but repeatedly forgetting things as part of your everyday life could be.

Meisner added earlier detection gives doctors a chance to intervene sooner in a patient's life.

"As many as 40 percent of dementia cases may be attributed to modifiable risk factors," Meisner emphasized. "Things like having too high of blood pressure or not enough physical activity, lack of exercise. Things like that, getting good sleep. All of those things are so important."

All can be controlled by developing healthy habits. A 2022 report from the Alzheimer's Association showed 60 percent of people will put off seeing a doctor if they develop symptoms early on, waiting until the symptoms worsen, or family and friends encourage them to seek treatment.

The Association is holding educational events statewide all month.