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Lewy body disease is a brain degenerative disease characterized by the presence of Lewy bodies, deposits of alpha-synuclein protein, in the brainstem, limbic system, and cerebral cortex. It is the second most common brain degenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease and is often associated with movement disturbances, memory problems, and psychiatric symptoms. It is similar to Parkinson’s disease in terms of tissue changes found in affected patients. However, the disease can be difficult to recognize early on as it progresses slowly over time.

Researchers from the Universities of Helsinki and Tampere recently conducted a study to investigate the occurrence of Lewy body disease markers in young and middle-aged subjects who were not known to suffer from the disease. Previous studies had focused on individuals over the age of 60, but this study aimed to shed light on the prevalence of the disease in younger age groups. The researchers found that Lewy body disease changes may begin to develop in the brain as early as middle age, even before symptoms are present.

The study used Finnish forensic autopsy data of approximately 600 individuals aged 16-95 who died outside of hospitals. The researchers found evidence of disease changes in nine percent of people over 50 who did not have a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body disease. This suggests that Lewy body disease may be more common in people over 50 than previously thought. Early diagnosis of the disease is crucial for more effective treatment, as therapies developed against degenerative brain diseases will be most effective when started in the early stages of the disease or in individuals at risk of developing the disease.

Associate Professor Liisa Myllykangas from the University of Helsinki stresses the importance of identifying disease changes in younger age groups to optimize treatment outcomes for degenerative brain diseases. By identifying disease markers in individuals before symptoms appear, researchers can target therapies to those who are most likely to benefit from them. The study has implications for future research on Lewy body disease and highlights the need for further studies to confirm these findings.

The findings of this study have been published in the journal Annals of Neurology. The research contributes to the growing body of knowledge on Lewy body disease and emphasizes the importance of early diagnosis for effective treatment outcomes. By identifying disease changes in middle-aged individuals who do not yet exhibit symptoms, researchers hope to develop therapies that can target the disease in its early stages, leading to better outcomes for patients with degenerative brain diseases. Future studies will continue to explore the prevalence of Lewy body disease in different age groups and confirm the findings of this study.

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