A Simple Test for Alzheimer's


With all the research that's been done on Alzheimer's research, what's always been elusive is a reliable early test for it. In a few years, it's possible we'll have one. The test is given to someone in their early seventies to determine if they will develop Alzheimer's disease, or AD, with ninety percent accuracy. That's remarkable given there's no single test for it, let alone one that's predictive. This test looks at ten lipids or fats in the blood. If they're low, you're likely to develop Alzheimer's.

Right now trying to pin down a diagnosis is invasive, expensive, and time consuming. Doctors can order CT scans or MRIs to look for structural changes in the brain. Newly developed scans now available at major hospitals connected to clinical trials look for brain shrinkage, inflammation, and protein buildup in the brain. Some undergo spinal taps to check for presence of these proteins.

You've probably heard of genetic testing to look for the presence of genes that can increase someone's risk for AD, but with no certainly that they'll actually get it. Researchers behind the new test had taken blood from over five hundred people age seventy and followed them for five years. About a fifth developed AD and each had low levels of the ten lipids.

These fats come from the breakdown of neural cell membranes which are reduced in Alzheimer's. Since testing blood is a routine part of a yearly physical, this test could be easily incorporated. The question is whether seniors would want it. With no effective treatment for AD, what's the point of upsetting someone? But some doctors argue current medicines could potentially work if people took them sooner which we can only confirm once we get a reliable early diagnosis.

More Information

Plasma phospholipids identify antecedent memory impairment in older adults
Nature Medicine scientific paper on the study by Dr. Mark Mapstone, et al.

Blood test identifies those at-risk for cognitive decline, Alzheimer's within three years
A more layperson-friendly article on the study from ScienceDaily

Alzheimer's disease
Everything you want and need to know about Alzheimer's from the highly regarded Mayo Clinic