By Rachel K Wentz ( | First Posted: Jun 29, 2015 11:48 PM EDT

(Photo : YouTube)

New research indicates that lows scores on memory tests given to healthy patients may serve as warning signs for future development of Alzheimer's disease, perhaps up to 18 years in advance.

"The changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer's disease begin decades before," study author Kumar Rajan, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.

"While we cannot currently detect such changes in individuals at risk, we were able to observe them among a group of individuals who eventually developed dementia due to Alzheimer's."

More than 2,000 people participated in the experiment. The average age of participants was 73 and included black and white individuals from the Chicago area. None of the participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the start of the study and the memory tests, which included thinking skills, were given every three years for nearly two decades.

Twenty three percent of the black individuals and seventeen percent of the white developed Alzheimer's during the study period. And those who had scored lowest on the tests throughout the study were at greater risk for developing the disease.

The research indicated that after the first year, those scoring lower on the tests were about 10 times more likely to develop the disease than those with the best scores. And as the scores dropped below average, odds for the disease increased. The study was published online June 24 in the journal Neurology.

"A general current concept is that in development of Alzheimer's disease, certain physical and biologic changes precede memory and thinking impairment," Rajan said. "If this is so, then these underlying processes may have a very long duration. Efforts to successfully prevent the disease may well require a better understanding of these processes near middle age."

Currently, Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US. According to the Alzheimer's Organization, the disease is the only cause of death in the top 10 in America that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. And one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia in our country.

Surely an early warning test might help reduce some of these frightening statistics.

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