New Alzheimer's Test to Assess Your Risk
July 20--Would you want to find out if you're at a greater risk for Alzheimer's? Even if there's no cure or guaranteed way to reduce your chances of developing it? That's a question that has come to the forefront, as a new form of testing can now determine if you have Alzheimer's risk factors.
In the long run, diagnosing Alzheimer's before symptoms appear could improve treatment.
"The earlier we can make it, the more effective our treatments can potentially be," said Dr. Kaycee Sink, an associate professor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and the director of the center's memory assessment clinic.
The idea is to catch it before irreversible damage is done.
In recent years, researchers have been finding ways to identify signs that the disease is developing in people who show no symptoms by measuring the levels of certain proteins in spinal fluid and by using brain-imaging technology to detect the presence of a protein called amyloid that creates plaque in the brains of people with Alzheimer's.
The more markers that are present, the higher the likelihood that Alzheimer's is developing, said Dr. Geoffrey Dunbar, the senior vice president for clinical development and regulatory affairs and the chief medical officer for Targacept, a local drug-development company.
Dunbar was among those in Hawaii last week for the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, where new guidelines were proposed that would put people who tested positive for those spinal-fluid or brain-imaging markers into a new category called pre-clinical. That's in addition to the two already recognized stages -- mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's.
The news that serious cognitive deterioration may be on the way years before symptoms appear may be disturbing to, say, a 55-year-old man who is apparently in good health.
It's information that could be wrong. As it is, none of the markers are definitive.
"Parts of this are hypothetical," Dunbar said. And there is always the possibility of a false positive.