Researchers discovered that a drug can highlight the plaques in the brain which are believed to be behind the disease.
Currently, Alzheimer’s disease can only be definitively confirmed through the detection of the plaques during autopsy or with a brain tissue biopsy.
Picking up and treating the disease early could delay the onset of the illness by years. Some 820,000 people in Britain have dementia with more than half having Alzheimer’s.
Dr Anne Corbett of the Alzheimer’s Society said “Finding ways to increase the number of early and accurate diagnoses is essential if we are to ensure people have access to vital treatments, support and information.
“Yet at the moment, only 43 per cent of people with the condition ever get a diagnosis, meaning hundreds of thousands of people are left struggling alone.”
The new method, using a drug to highlight toxins in the brain, was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in New Orleans.
Study author Dr Marwan Sabbagh said: “This is an easy, non-invasive way to assist an Alzheimer’s diagnosis at an early stage.”
In a separate study scientists found an intelligence gene which could help in the battle against Alzheimer’s and mental illness.
A team of more than 200 scientists from 100 institutions worldwide joined forces to map the human genes that boost or sabotage the brain’s resistance to a range of mental illnesses and Alzheimer’s.
The study also uncovered new genes that may explain individual differences in brain size and intelligence.
Senior author Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in the United States, said: said: “Millions of people carry variations in their DNA that help boost or lower their brains’ susceptibility to a vast range of diseases.
“Once we identify the gene, we can target it with a drug to reduce the risk of disease. People also can take preventive steps through exercise, diet and mental stimulation to erase the effects of a bad gene.”
The findings were published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Genetics.