New test developed for Alzheimer’s disease

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Tecumseh Place administrator Maria Crane helps a resident at the memory care facility. Both Tecumseh Place I and II are now dedicated for residents stricken with conditions affecting memory, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Jim Lincoln.

Recent developments in the study of Alzheimer’s disease have made future testing for the disease less invasive and less expensive, according to a study published online Sunday, March 9, at Nature Medicine. A simple blood test developed by researchers can predict with 90 percent accuracy the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease within a two to three year period.

“The results are very preliminary,” said Tecumseh neurologist Dr. Rebecca Poetschke. “They studied it in people who were 70 and older. It certainly isn’t the standard of care. Now they are going to look at it in 40- to 50-year-olds.”
Testing was done with 525 adults in their 70s, according to a summary of the report on www.npr.org. To validate the results, further testing needs to be done with different age groups and racial backgrounds.

“This is a big push in neurology,” said Poetschke. “Hopefully, it will dovetail into treatments.”

The blood tests analyzed 4,000 different markers in the systems of healthy adults and discovered that changes in 10 different lipids (fats) in the body could predict the likelihood of cognitive impairment from Alzheimer’s disease. There have been genetic tests available for people questioning the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but the options can be invasive or expensive.

A spinal tap, which is often painful, is necessary for one test. Getting a brain MRI is another way to determine Alzheimer’s disease, but this test is expensive, time consuming, and often not covered by insurance.

Regardless of diagnosis, currently, there are no specific treatment for dementias, whether Alzheimer’s or other forms. Identifying where lower levels exist in the lipids of the brain, could eventually lead to medication or treatment designed to raise the levels and treat the disease.

“I think it’s very exciting to look at early detection,” Poetschke said. “People always do so much better with an early diagnosis.”

Alzheimer’s disease seems on the rise, along with other types of dementia. “I believe the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is higher,” said Poetschke. “One risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. We are living longer.”

Discovering whether Alzheimer’s disease is a possibility allows for older adults to adjust lifestyle and make important financial and life decisions while still capable of unimpaired judgment. Sometimes fear of the disease keeps people from addressing the issue while they can.

“People don’t face it early enough,” Poetschke said. “They avoid the issue, and then it becomes too late and is a disaster for the family. People need to be aware of memory issues and not hide them from family and friends. If there are memory issues, don’t hesitate to contact a family physician.”

Memory and dementia issues can be treatable in some cases, according to Poetschke, when patients are dealing with external problems like a vitamin deficiency. When receiving a diagnosis of dementia or possible Alzheimer’s disease, there are many resources in Lenawee County to help families cope.

“There’s a lot of caretaker training in the community to help the family understand,” said Poetschke. “Our Department on Aging in Lenawee County is fantastic. They have all kinds of resources, and the department really needs to be used.

For those who have family members with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, there are ways to minimize the chances of cognitive impairment. “What I recommend to family members of people with Alzheimer’s is leading a healthy lifestyle. Being good to your body is being good to your brain,” Poetschke said. “Get physical exercise, stay sharp mentally with crosswords or Suduko, stay social. Just change up your routine every now and then to keep alert.”

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Poetschke recommends visiting www.alzheimers.org and the website for Lenawee Department on Aging at www.lenaweeseniors.org.




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