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Alzheimer’s

Beta Amyloid Plague
IMAGE CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA.COMMONS

When the first version of Net Attitude was published in 2001, I took it down to Southern New Jersey to show it to my father. I proudly walked into the nursing home and found him resting in his wheelchair. I showed him the book and pointed to my name. “Look Dad, its me. Your son, John. See? Dad?” He looked up and then paddled away in his wheelchair. He did not know me, my brother, or his wife of sixty years. Dad was not overweight, he was a large and strong man, except for his brain. Eventually, he no longer could remember how to swallow, and he passed away from Alzheimer’s.

Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain. There are many kinds of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common. Memory loss which disrupts daily life can be associated with 10 warning signs and symptoms. 

  1. Forgetting recently learned information
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends if you notice any of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them, and schedule an appointment with your doctor.

DARK Daily, an easy to read and understand alert on key developments in laboratory medicine and laboratory management, said that for more than 30 years, researchers have been seeking “the Holy Grail of clinical laboratory testing—an accurate test for Alzheimer’s disease that is minimally-invasive and produces information that is actionable by clinicians at a reasonable cost.” Paying attention to warning signs is a good idea, but an accurate test could lead to a new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s. 

A breakthrough may have happened, as two research studies, one in Germany and the other in Japan, have developed blood sample tests which could be the answer. Both tests detect specific biomarkers found in Alzheimer’s patients. The test could eventually enable physicians to diagnose Alzheimer’s in its preclinical stages. These would not be cures, but diagnosing the disease decades earlier could be an important breakthrough which could lead to a cure. Both research studies are similar and focused on identifying high levels of amyloid-beta plaque in patients with Alzheimer’s. Healthy brains also have amyloid-beta plaque but, in a person with Alzheimer’s disease, the plaque has different physical properties which the tests can detect. Currently, such detection can only be done with invasive and very expensive tests at the latter stage of the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly six million Americans have the debilitating disease. Like many diseases, an early diagnosis increases the chances of a cure. The new blood tests need further research, but what I have read about them sounds very encouraging.