Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that causes dementia—it wrecks memory, muddies thinking, and alters behavior. There’s no cure, and although symptoms develop over years, there is little doctors can do to stop the progression once the disease has taken hold. But catching Alzheimer’s early—before debilitating symptoms take over—may allow treatment to slow the disease more effectively. Now, European-based scientists may have come up with a blood test capable of identifying Alzheimer’s years earlier. Their research was recently published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, an academic journal published by the European Molecular Biology Organization. Here are some early signs of Alzheimer’s to be aware of.
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As many as 15 to 20 years before Alzheimer’s triggers dementia symptoms, it begins making structural changes to the brain. Plaques made up of a substance known as amyloid beta form in the brain, but the only way to spot the plaques requires expensive brain scans or invasive testing—something that only happens once a patient has severe symptoms.
In the new study, Klaus Gerwert, PhD and a team of researchers were able to distinguish between normal amyloid beta in the bloodstream and the misfolded amyloid beta that forms brain plaque. Dr. Gerwert first tried the blood test on people with mild symptoms: In a press release, he reported the test could reliably identify the misfolded plaque in people whose brain scans revealed brain plaque. Next, Dr. Gerwert tested 65 archived blood samples of people who, years later, went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. To help confirm the test’s accuracy, he also screened blood samples from 809 healthy adults. The blood test correctly identified people with the disease more than 70 percent of the time, and it could do so up to eight years before a patient’s diagnosis.
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Before the test can be rolled out to a doctor near you, it will have to undergo larger scale testing, according to Dr. Gerwert. This research will also be used to test an early blood test for Parkinson’s Disease as well.
Be sure to check out these 36 habits that reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.