Identify Alzheimer's 10 Years Early

Dementia diagnosis not needed to spot the disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The best new treatments for Alzheimer's disease likely will rely on early diagnosis and treatment. A new experimental test can help diagnose the disease 10 years before major symptoms appear.

Researchers hope using the experimental test will help develop new drugs for early treatment. More study is needed before widely using the test, which measures two biomarkers in spinal fluid.

"Don't panic: Mild memory loss isn't the same as Alzheimer's disease."

A Swedish study from Lund University showed a 91 percent risk of developing Alzheimer's disease if spinal fluid shows two things: low levels of beta-amyloid and high levels of tau. Researchers tested for these protein fragments in 137 people with mild memory impairment.

People with normal values for the protein fragments did not have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, says Dr. Oskar Hansson. He is an associate professor in the memory research unit at Lund University in Malmö, Sweden.

Most patients were in their early 60s and 70s when the 10-year study started.

The test only has 91 percent accuracy so it cannot be the only method to diagnose Alzheimer's disease early, Dr. Hansson says. Accurate diagnosis should improve by combining the test with other techniques. He mentioned adding a physician's exam and also scanning the brain's blood flow.

Finding new treatments is so important because “all prospective therapies have so far shown to be ineffective in stopping the disease, but these failures may depend on the fact that the new therapies were initiated too late.

When a patient receives a diagnosis today, the damage has already gone too far,” he says.

Dr. Hansson and colleagues published the observational study in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. Funding came largely from Swedish foundations focused on Alzheimer's disease research.

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Review Date: 
January 10, 2012
Last Updated:
January 13, 2012