Alzheimer’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 70% of cases. Although this makes it one of the main responsible for disability and dependency of older adults in the world, it is not known what causes it.
However, a study carried out by American and Swedish scientists reported that a simple and affordable blood test could help predict its appearance with high precision, even identifying signs 20 years before they become serious.
This discovery could be of great use in meeting the urgent need for simple, inexpensive, non-invasive, and readily available diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease. Some specialists even warn that new testing technologies would also help in drug development.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that causes problems with memory, the way you think, and the way you behave. The first symptoms vary from person to person and the related brain changes begin years before signs of the disease appear.
Although it is the most common type of dementia, there are other forms that differ in their causes, symptoms, and incidence in the patient, such as dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, dementia due to Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, or Huntington’s disease, among others.
It should be noted that dementia is not a specific disease, but a generic term that is used to describe a variety of symptoms that affect a person’s ability to carry out their daily activities independently.
Currently there are approximately 50 million cases in the world. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives between 4 and 8 years after being diagnosed, although they can do so for up to 20 years. The progression of this disease is categorized by phases: early, middle and final, depending on the incidence of the symptoms in the life of the patients.
- Alzheimer’s phases, symptoms and prevention
While much scientific research is working to understand Alzheimer’s disease, no cure or treatment has been proven that can reverse its progress.
Now, new findings from the research group led by Dr. Oskar Hansson, a clinical memory research professor at Lund University in Sweden, show promise for accurately predicting the onset of Alzheimer’s. The work was published in JAMA Network and was presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, (AAIC 2020).
What is the blood test?
This is not the first time a blood test has been done as an early detection test. But, this new test differs in that “it was 96% accurate in determining whether people with dementia had Alzheimer’s rather than other neurodegenerative disorders,” Hansson said.
Together with his team, they identified a high-precision blood biomarker for the detection of Alzheimer’s disease, measuring the levels of p-tau217 in the blood. This is a type of tau protein, molecules that are abundant in the central and peripheral nervous system.
Changes in the brain proteins amyloid and tau, and their formation in groups called plaques and tangles, define the physical characteristics of Alzheimer’s in the brain. The accumulation of tau tangles is believed to be closely correlated with cognitive decline.
Currently, brain changes that occur before symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia appear can only be reliably assessed using positron emission tomography (PET) scans and measuring amyloid and tau proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). These methods are expensive, invasive, and too often not available, either because they are difficult to access or because they are not covered by insurance.
In the recently reported results, blood / plasma levels of p-tau217 also showed a close correlation with amyloid accumulation.
According to the researchers, the diagnostic accuracy of p-tau217 in blood was as high as that of established diagnostic methods, including PET and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers, “which are invasive, expensive and less available.”
The test has the potential to make diagnosis simpler, more affordable, and widely available to all people. The key to this is that the test determined, in multiple and diverse populations with dementia, whether they had Alzheimer’s rather than another condition.
Other ways to detect and prevent it
Many experts agree that a series of signs and symptoms can help detect Alzheimer’s before it becomes serious:
- Mood and behavior changes.
- Difficulty walking, speaking, and swallowing.
- Difficulty remembering, even recent information.
- Severe memory loss
- Suspicion of family, friends and caregivers.
Although there are no medications that can slow down this disease, you can adopt healthy guidelines to prevent it:
- Sleep between 7 and 8 hours a day.
- Include a Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, legumes, lean fish and olive oil). You can also increase your consumption of Omega 3 fats, due to their brain stimulating properties.
- Practice yoga, meditation, or relaxation techniques.
Sources consulted: Alzheimer Association, US National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Mental Health, World Health Organization (WHO).