Blood Test May Indicate Alzheimer's Impact

Predicting cognitive decline in Alzheimers disease patients

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

(RxWiki News) For many Alzheimer's patients, the disease slowly erodes brain cognition. Others aren't so lucky and the decline can be rapid. The problem is there's been no way to identify those that quickly decline and need aggressive treatment.

A blood test may be able to detect the ratio of two fatty components that could predict how quickly Alzheimer's patients will lose cognitive function.

"See a neurologist regularly for Alzheimer's."

Previous research has shown that about a third of Alzheimer's patients did not decline over a period of five years, while another third declined at a moderate rate and the remainder had a rapid decline.

Michelle Mielke, Ph.D, an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of the research, said she is confident that there is a relationship between the lipids and the progression of Alzheimer's disease, though the test is not yet ready to be used in a clinical setting.

Researchers enrolled 120 probable Alzheimer's patients. Participants had their blood tested and they participated in cognitive assessments during an average four visits over more than two years.

They found that the higher the level of plasma sphingomyelins and the lower the level of ceramide — two types of fat found in cells throughout the body — the slower the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The link between the fats and Alzheimer's is not well understood. However, it is known that ceramides are involved in inflammation and cell death. When fewer of these cells circulate, the result may be a slower progression of the disease since fewer brain cells are killed off.

Being able to predict how fast patients will decline could help family members and caregivers prepare, and could help doctors identify patients in need of aggressive treatments. Additional studies are needed to ensure the accuracy of the blood test.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Review Date: 
October 11, 2011
Last Updated:
October 12, 2011