The second most common brain degenerative disease after Alzheimer’s may start to develop in middle age without any symptoms, a new study has revealed.

Research has shown that Lewy body disease may lead to changes in the brain at an earlier age than previously thought.

Lewy bodies are found in the brainstem, limbic system and cerebral cortex – changes to the tissue which are similar to those seen in people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The disease progresses slowly, making it difficult to spot. Its symptoms include movement disorders, memory problems and psychiatric symptoms.

The latest findings could pave the way for treatments aimed at people who are newly-diagnosed, or those who may be at risk of developing Lewy body disease.

Associate Professor Liisa Myllykangas, from the University of Helsinki, said: “Finding out the prevalence of disease changes in younger age groups is therefore important as this will be the most effective time to start therapies.”

Prior studies have examined the incidence of the disease markers in people aged over 60.

Associate Professor Myllykangas said: “Our findings indicate that Lewy body disease may be more common in people over 50 than previously thought.

“In the study, we found disease changes in nine percent of people over 50 who did not have a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body disease.

“However, further studies are needed to confirm the results.”

A team from the Universities of Helsinki and Tampere looked at the rate of Lewy body disease markers in young and middle-aged people without the condition or Parkinson’s disease.

They used Finnish forensic autopsy data, which was made up of around 600 people aged between 16 and 95 who died outside a hospital setting.

Read the full study in the journal Annals of Neurology.

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