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Declining Skeletal Muscle Health May Be Early Indicator of Alzheimer’s

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Declining skeletal muscle health might be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s according to researchers from Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who have linked declining skeletal muscle health in Alzheimer’s with impaired peripheral nerve function.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Arkansas and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Researchers recently published their results in Function, an American Physiological Society journal.

The findings are significant in that they may help clinicians diagnose Alzheimer’s or dementia earlier, allowing them to treat it sooner and therefore delay the onset of the disease’s more severe symptoms.

The findings suggest Alzheimer’s is a systemic pathology with implications for the entire body, not just the brain, according to the researchers. They also suggest that the muscles of people with Alzheimer’s may adapt differently to certain common interventions, such as exercise.

“Alzheimer’s is extremely hard to identify at a preclinical level because we don’t have a good understanding how the disease develops before cognition is impaired,” said Joshua Drake, assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise and principal investigator on the project. “But what we can look at are the ways the body changes before diagnosis and use that to identify people that could be at risk.”

He added: “Can we measure nerve function in a peripheral limb as an indicator for increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease? That’s what our findings suggest.”

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Drake noted researchers are “building off a body of literature” that shows people who develop Alzheimer’s have “profound skeletal muscle loss” before they develop cognitive symptoms.

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