Flipboard Magazine

Monday, May 2, 2016

Alzheimer testing

Alzheimer disease is a form of dementia that slowly reduces a person's mental faculties to the point, where in the later stages, the person can no longer function physically. It is a progressive disease with no cure; however, there are new drugs on the market that can slow its progress, and there are some promising tests which may diagnose it in the early stages to allow for earlier treatment. Alzheimer's is the most common progressive dementia.

Early signs of Alzheimer's disease may include confusion about places, handling financial affairs, misplacing items, completing daily tasks, and mild personality changes. In moderate Alzheimer's, there is increased memory loss and confusion regarding places and recognizing familiar faces. Hygiene and appearance may become unimportant. In the severe stage, a person may lack any ability to recognize familiar places or faces, communicate, lose control of bowel and bladder functions, and require assistance for all activities.

Since many baby boomers are becoming golden-agers, there has been much research into Alzheimer's. There are a few new tests that can help diagnose it in the early stages, thereby helping doctors set up more effective treatment. Traditional testing has included the Clock Drawing test, the Mini-Mental Stage Examination, and the Functional Assessment Staging test. A physical exam, brain scan, neuropsychological evaluation, and interviews with family members are part of the diagnostic process.

New testing which looks promising includes analyzing spinal fluid to find biomarkers, which are chains of amino acids. High levels of these biomarkers are indicative of Alzheimer disease and very accurate in diagnosing it. Other researchers found three proteins in cerebrospinal fluid that may diagnose Alzheimer's before symptoms start and signal how fast it is progressing. Total tau protein, phosphorylated tau and amyloid protein are called disease signatures in people with Alzheimer's. More promising research indicates that blood levels of the beta-amyloid protein can predict Alzheimer's.  A PET scan named Amyvid uses a  radioactive marker known as florbetapir F 18 to detect the protein.  Amyvid can detect the buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain. It can help doctors differentiate between symptoms of other dementias or other cognitive problems. The FDA has said that Avid Radiopharmaceutical, developer of Amyvid, needs to think about training the medical community and getting more evidence of the effects of amyloid plaque.

In Canada, researchers are working on a DHEA blood test that might be used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease.  The brain hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), is produced at high levels. When oxidation on blood samples was tested from people without Alzheimer's, the samples produced DHEA. The blood from  Alzheimer's patients could not produce this hormone.  Currently, the diagnosing of Alzheimer's focuses mainly on neurological signs. Although, DHEA testing is not a sure thing yet, it will enable accurate, early, noninvasive testing for Alzheimer's.

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