Would you want to know if you were going to get Alzheimer's disease? The brain changes that accompany this disease start 10 years or more before symptoms develop.
Breakthrough finding: Researchers were able to predict, with 100% accuracy, which individuals with mild cognitive impairment (a condition that often precedes Alzheimer's) would develop full-blown Alzheimer's within five years.
Historically, Alzheimer's has been definitively diagnosed only during an autopsy. But a new study shows that two proteins, amyloid-beta and tau, can be markers for Alzheimer's disease when found in a person's spinal fluid. Researchers speculate that even people without signs of memory loss who have these proteins may develop Alzheimer's.
It will now be possible to enlist people who have mild cognitive impairment and these proteins in studies to develop new Alzheimer's medications, explains Samuel Gandy, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
People with memory problems who now choose to get the test and learn that they're likely to develop Alzheimer's will also have time to put their affairs in order while their minds are still relatively sharp.
Catch: Right now, there are no effective treatments for Alzheimer's—and the spinal tap can be painful for some and carries risk for headache, back pain and bleeding. A new diagnostic PET scan is in late-stage trials. With such complex issues in play, anyone who is worried about Alzheimer's should have a long talk with his/her doctor.
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