Time is of the essence when detecting Alzheimer’s disease and now a new study provides hope in this area by suggesting that the memory-robbing disease could be detected up to 18 years in advance.

The findings, published recently in the medical journal Neurology, found that older adults who performed poorly on cognition tests were almost 10 times as likely to develop the disease within the next 18 years as those with higher scores.

According to a story of the Huffington Post by Yagana Shah, a Rush University Medical Center study looked at a sample of 2,215 seniors in the Chicago area with an average age of 73. For 18 years, they were given memory and thinking tests every three years. By the end of the study, 23 percent of the black participants and 17 percent of the white participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers discovered that those who developed the disease scored lower across on the tests throughout the study, worsening with each successive testing. In fact, for every unit their score dropped on the tests, their risk for Alzheimer’s increased by 85 percent.

“The changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin decades before,” study author Kumar B. Rajan said in a release. “While we cannot currently detect such changes in individuals at risk, we were able to observe them among a group of individuals who eventually developed dementia due to Alzheimer’s.” The findings are important as the disease has no cure, but early detection is key.

Much research has tried to find clues that will help discover the disease before the telltale symptoms appear.

One study looked at proteins in spinal fluid in an effort to detect the disease up to five years earlier. Another study used blood samples from patients to try and detect it up to three years in advance.