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Is Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Possible?

agingmemorydementiaalzheimer'sHealth & Wellness • 3 min read • Jul 22, 2015 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Kat Smith

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia among aging adults, and it is a devastating condition that takes hold slowly with progressive, irreversible damage to memory and cognitive abilities. Living with Alzheimer’s presents daily challenges for patients and their families, who may take on the role of caretaker as the disease progresses and limits regular activities. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but those who are diagnosed early on for the disease may enjoy more years of independence and positive memories with loved ones. Recent breakthroughs in behavioral research and the discovery of possible biomarkers, which could indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s, have created new hope in facilitating earlier diagnoses and better outcomes.

Alzheimer’s Basics

The cognitive and behavioral changes associated with Alzheimer’s are caused by formations in the brain tissue called plaques and tangles, which lead to a loss of connections between neurons in the brain. Because the physical changes in the brain of Alzheimer’s can only be definitively diagnosed posthumously, estimates for how many people are affected by the disease vary. Still, it is known that Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise, as an estimated 28 million baby boomers will develop the disease by 2050. This is more than double the number of adults living with the disease today, and it will account for about 50 percent of surviving baby boomers.

Advanced Testing Before Cognitive Decline

One of the most promising developments that may curb the impact of Alzheimer’s disease and improve future care of the disease is a saliva test that detects a substance called MCI, which is sometimes an early marker for Alzheimer’s disease. While this test is not yet conclusive enough to be used on a large scale, it does show the possibility of early screening for Alzheimer’s before cognitive decline ever takes place. As is the case with many different cancers and other neurological conditions, early detection may be the best pathway to more effective treatment.

Early Indicators of Alzheimer’s

Research from a long-running Swedish study has shown that Alzheimer’s may have some signs well before adulthood. In a 90-year study, researchers found that participants who had low grades at the age of 10 were about 21% more likely to have a diagnosis of dementia, which may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Even success in higher education and complex occupations did not balance the risk, as low grades early in life tend to indicate low baseline abilities.

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Kat Smith