By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Alzheimer’s is a devastating condition. We know it affects 5.4 million people in the US and many believe that detecting Alzheimer’s disease early could lead to prevention or earlier treatment.

A new report looked at 151 elderly individuals, some with normal cognitive function, some with mild cognitive impairment, and some with dementia. Every patient had their brain scanned with pet scans using a tracer called florbetapir which can highlight areas where there are amyloid beta plaques. The plaques are a linked to Alzheimer’s disease but can also be seen in normal aging. The patients also underwent 10 cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and 18 months later.

Researchers found that those with “positive” scans were more likely to perform worse on cognitive tests at baseline and more likely to progress. The report is in the journal Neurology and has many thinking about ways to detect Alzheimer’s early.