Artist's rendering of a brain cell damaged by amyloid beta plaque in Alzheimer's disease

Scientists have identified 10 health issues that are most likely to appear within 15 years of an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. The findings may offer clinical targets for prevention, the researchers say. 

Investigators analyzed approximately 80,000 healthcare records from France and the United Kingdom. They compared common pathologies that arose among study subjects who did and did not develop Alzheimer’s disease during the study period.

Depression was most frequently associated with later development of Alzheimer’s symptoms, appearing at least nine years before the first clinical diagnosis. This was followed by anxiety, constipation and abnormal weight loss. Other factors making an early appearance included exposure to high stress, hearing loss, cervical spondyloarthritis, memory loss, fatigue and falls, reported Thomas Nedelec, of Sorbonne University in Paris.

Some of the factors — such as hearing loss and depression — are already known to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Others, such as constipation and cervical spondyloarthritis, an arthritic condition affecting the neck, are less commonly associated with the illness, the authors noted.

“The question remains as to whether the health problems encountered are risk factors, symptoms or warning signs of the disease,” they wrote.

Although the exact nature of their links to dementia are unclear, addressing these health issues may be a worthwhile pursuit for clinicians and patients who are interested in Alzheimer’s prevention, the authors concluded.

The study is the first of its kind to analyze possible risk factors well ahead of Alzheimer’s diagnosis in a very large sample of patients, the authors said.

Full findings were published in the Lancet.