By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you knew you were at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease someday, would it change what you do now?

Researchers believe they have found some clues to the future.

Will it be possible to test for Alzheimer’s decades before it’s obvious? How about in just 30 seconds?

“It will be wonderful if it works out, but it’s going to be many years before we know whether this is really all that helpful,” says Carol Schramke, PhD, an Alzheimer’s disease specialist in the Allegheny General Hospital Department of Neurology.

British researchers looked at the performance of more than 400 Australians in their mid-40s on tests of memory, calculation and reaction time on a 30 second test.

They noted certain types of tiny bright spots on their brain MRI scans called white matter hyperintensities.

The spots correspond to areas of decaying brain cells. High blood pressure, high blood sugar and smoking can contribute to this.

Turns out, in the study, these bright spots in the deep front part of the brain are associated with decreased reaction time, especially in women and deep along the sides of the brain, decreased facial recognition, especially in men.

But in real life, these spots may not translate into anything obviously abnormal.

“It’s just like gray hair and wrinkles are a normal part of aging,” explains Dr. Schramke.

While some people are concerned about not finding their words or losing their keys in their 40’s, it’s not the vast majority of who worries.

“Most of those people I can reassure that what you’re describing is because you’re not sleeping well or you’re stressed,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a big line of people outside our office of people who want to get this test just yet.”

She is more concerned about complacence. “I do worry that people will see these things and if you don’t have abnormalities, ‘Oh I don’t have to worry, I have a free pass,’ and that’s probably not the case. All of us need to take care of ourselves.”

Dr. Schramke says regardless of what any MRI shows, we should all be doing the things we can do to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. That means watching your blood pressure and cholesterol, exercising and avoiding head injuries.

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