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The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. It is estimated that by the year 2050, the number will nearly triple to a projected 14 million. It is no wonder the healthcare profession views Alzheimer’s Disease as a crisis and one that is not able to be cured by medications or other interventions.
Fortunately, the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations are pouring money into research. While the goal is to find a cure for this devastating disease, research into the “why” and “how” of the disease is also happening throughout the world.
An Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
Currently, Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be officially diagnosed until the person has died and the brain is able to be viewed. Seeing the telltale plaques and tangles of the disease in the brain is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis. So, if the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease is after death, how are seniors being diagnosed while they are still very much alive?
Neurologists can determine if someone is living with Alzheimer’s Disease by a battery of tests, conducted over time. Tests include cognitive and orientation tests, as well as feedback and observations from family members. Experienced neurologists can use this information to determine if confusion and judgment issues are caused by Alzheimer’s Disease, another dementia, or even delirium.
Earlier in 2019, a team of scientists published a paper that reported promising results for potentially using a blood test as a test for Alzheimer’s Disease. The research, published in Nature Medicine, notes the elevated count of a specific protein, neurofilament light chain protein (NfL), are elevated in presymptomatic phases of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The research noted the NfL levels could be above average up to 16 years before the onset of the disease.
There has also been promising primary research into using PET scans of the brain to identify amyloid plaques in the brain, a sign of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research published in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) gives hope that a relatively quick (though expensive) scan could help physicians diagnose and treat people with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Pros and Cons
With the research about early diagnosis and detection comes the ethical and personal preferences surrounding the decision to test early for Alzheimer’s Disease. While some people may want to know if they the disease decades before they would notice symptoms, it can be depressing and worrisome to most. After all, Alzheimer’s Disease does not have a cure. However, early testing and detection can lead to early intervention and treatment, along with the opportunity to speak with family members about your wishes as you age.
While the results of the research are promising, we still have years until these interventions and tests are used on a routine basis. Until then, we can continue to support organizations that are pushing to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias.
If your loved one is currently living with dementia, or if you aren’t sure if the memory lapses you are seeing are “normal” aging or something more serious, call our team of experienced advisors. We are ready to serve you and guide you through this challenging time.