Anton was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 3 years ago as part of a study at Washington University in Saint Louis, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.
When Anton first came into the study, he was asked if he was having problems with his memory or thinking. He said, "No, other people are."
He meant his wife, who noticed troubling signs. "Can't remember times when he's supposed to be places and forgets where he puts things, loses things and sort of doesn't keep track of time," recalled Ellen Brasunas.
Doctors diagnosed Anton with a disease called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). At the time, MCI was thought to be a separate, less severe memory loss condition.
But as researchers followed 225 subjects further, they found nearly all diagnosed with MCI, like Anton, eventually ended up with Alzheimer's--they weren't separate syndromes at all.
"Virtually all of them are going to get worse. That is, it seemed like this is the earliest symptom of Alzheimer's Disease," explains Dr. John Morris of Washington University.
Since only an autopsy provides proof positive of Alzheimer's, this could be huge. A tool to diagnose Alzheimer's earlier than ever, coupled with new drugs that better manage the ravaging symptoms, might literally be life-saving news.
"Now with Alzheimer's we'll be able to intervene early enough so that a person can live an extra 10 or 15 years of a productive life," predicts Zaven Khachaturian of the Alzheimer's Association.
If further research conclusively proves MCI is early stage Alzheimer's, it would change the way we think about the disease in America. For starters, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's, about 4 million, would double--perhaps even triple.
For more information about Alzheimer's Disease, contact the Alzheimer's Association at 1-800-272-3900 or tap into www.alz.org.
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