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Alzheimer’s Breakthrough

In health care some basic rules apply, no matter what the medical condition.  Number one is that prevention is better than treatment.  Number two is that early detection is better than too late…especially too little too late.  And now for the “breakthrough;” all of this is changing for the better in Alzheimer’s disease.

At the most recent meeting of the American Neurological Association new research was shared that showed not only a very early way to detect Alzheimer’s disease, but the test itself is quite easy to administer.  Physicians had been able to detect one of the key biomarkers of Alzheimer’s, a biomarker that identifies if a patient has amyloidosis forming in their brain, but that test required a lumbar puncture for the fluid needed for testing.  And add to this PET (positron emission tomography) scanning to confirm the manifestation of the disease.  Definitely not tests everyone would want as part of their annual physical, let alone afford to have done with any regularity.

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine have found a way to detect this Alzheimer’s biomarker in a simple blood test.  So, it’s easy, but the best part is that the biomarker can be detected in the blood as much as 20 years prior to any other signs and symptoms of the disease.  In fact, the researchers have found that an early positive blood test seems more accurate than the PET scanning.  That is key, because once a person has the symptoms of the cognitive decline that is Alzheimer’s, the damage is done.  None of the current treatments do any more than slow the progression of the disease that has already taken root, and even then only slightly slowing the progression.

I’ve talked in the past about the medications currently available for treating Alzheimer’s disease.  Three belong to a pharmacologic family of medications called cholinesterase inhibitors: tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine and another is called memantine. Sadly, they merely slow the disease’s progression.  But they have not been tried in really early stage Alzheimer’s disease.  There is hope, therefore, that with a highly reliable and easy to administer early test for the disease that cognitive decline may be forestalled for much longer than when treatment was only introduced later in the disease progression.

Wider availability of this blood test is still as much as four years out there, but for people who “have Alzheimer’s in their families,” this could be a great break through…and the beginning of a better chance in the fight.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.


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