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A study released this week suggests that it is possible that early signs of dementia can show up in a person nearly nine years before they are diagnosed with the condition, The Guardian reported.

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The study’s authors say they hope the new information will be an effective tool in fighting diseases such as Alzheimer’s that are generally not diagnosed until a person has likely had it for years.

“When we looked back at patients’ histories, it became clear that they were showing some cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms became obvious enough to prompt a diagnosis,” Nol Swaddiwudhipong, a junior doctor at the University of Cambridge and the study’s first author, said.

“The impairments were often subtle, but across a number of aspects of cognition.

“This is a step towards us being able to screen people who are at greatest risk — for example, people over 50 or those who have high blood pressure or do not do enough exercise — and intervene at an earlier stage to help them reduce their risk.”

According to the study’s authors, it is hoped the findings increase the prospect that patients at risk for developing dementia could be screened to find out if they can benefit from early intervention and treatment.

Conducted by researchers at Cambridge University, the study looked at data from tests that included problem-solving, memory and reaction times. Researchers also analyzed data on a person’s weight loss and the number of times a person fell.

The data used in the study was collected from five to nine years prior to a diagnosis of dementia.

According to the study, compared to individuals without cognitive issues, those who later developed Alzheimer’s scored poorly on problem-solving tasks, matching items, reaction times, remembering lists of numbers and the ability to remember to do something at a later time.

In addition, people who developed Alzheimer’s were more likely to have fallen in the previous 12 months when compared with a healthy adult.

While the findings can be troubling for those having any of the issues mentioned, senior author Dr. Tim Rittman from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge cautioned that the findings do not necessarily mean a person will develop dementia.

“People should not be unduly worried if, for example, they are not good at recalling numbers. Even some healthy individuals will naturally score better or worse than their peers.

“But we would encourage anyone who has any concerns or notices that their memory or recall is getting worse to speak to their GP.”

The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, and was funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council.