A new study suggests a relatively easy way to gauge whether people are more likely to wind up with an Alzheimer's diagnosis as far as 18 years down the road: memory and thinking tests. A study out of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago tracked more than 2,000 people with an average age of 73 who did not have an Alzheimer's diagnosis when the study began, explains HealthDay News. They took mental skills tests every three years over a nearly two-decade span, and it turns out that those who scored low on the tests had a greater chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At the time they took the tests, though, they showed no obvious symptoms of looming trouble, save for those low test scores. What's more, the eventual Alzheimer's patients showed progressively worse results in the testing.
"The changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer's disease begin decades before," says Kumar Rajan, author of the study in Neurology. He says the findings should be interpreted generally—that low test scores shouldn't be used to predict an individual's risk. But such tests might someday become a routine part of health maintenance for those in middle age, notes Time. For those who fare poorly, it might be wise to try to take preventative efforts. Rajan plans to next study what some of those efforts might be, perhaps even simple things such as crossword puzzles or increased social interaction. (In the meantime, those who snore might be at greater risk, too.)