Researchers are finding simple and accurate ways to detect Alzheimer’s long before there are definite symptoms. In addition to spinal fluid tests they also have new PET scans of the brain that show the telltale amyloid plaques that are a unique feature of the disease. Sometimes patients with severe memory loss do not have the disease. Doctors might want to use the test in cases where they want to be sure of the diagnosis. And they might want to offer the test to people with milder symptoms who want to know whether they are developing the devastating brain disease.
The new study included more than 300 patients in their 70s, 114 with normal memories, 200 with memory problems and 102 with Alzheimer’s disease. Their spinal fluid was analyzed for amyloid beta, a protein fragment that forms plaques in the brain, and for tau, a protein that accumulates in dead and dying nerve cells in the brain.Nearly every person with Alzheimer’s had the characteristic spinal fluid protein levels. Nearly three quarters of people with mild cognitive impairment, a memory impediment that can precede Alzheimer’s, had Alzheimer’s-like spinal fluid proteins. And about a third of people with normal memories had spinal fluid indicating Alzheimer’s. Researchers suspect that those people will develop memory problems.
Read more about this in the New York Times
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