Scientists have developed a new blood test that could be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. The Guardian reports that the test could mean a faster and less difficult diagnostic method, potentially leading to earlier and more effective treatment and management of the disease.
The current methods of detecting dementia involve either a costly and time-consuming brain scan, or an invasive lumbar puncture to draw a sample of fluid from the lower back. The procedure can be painful, with side effects including back pain and headaches. The new test is said to be quick and reliable.
Prof Thomas Karikari at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, US, who was involved in the study, said: “A lot of patients, even in the US, don’t have access to MRI and PET scanners. Accessibility is a major issue.”
He added: “The development of a reliable blood test would be an important step forwards. A blood test is cheaper, safer and easier to administer, and it can improve clinical confidence in diagnosing Alzheimer’s and selecting participants for clinical trial and disease monitoring.”
Scientists believe that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia, can begin many years before any obvious symptoms develop. It is thought to be caused by a build-up of amyloid proteins in the brain.
There are blood tests that can detect abnormalities in the proteins, but the new test can also detect markers of nerve cell damage that are linked to the brain.
As the disease progresses, patients have increasing difficulty with memory and cognitive processes. They may need assistance with the tasks of everyday living, including washing, dressing, cooking, and shopping. At first, symptoms can be mild and may be confused with the slight slowing down of the brain as we get older.
It is normal to occasionally forget names or where you put your keys, but with Alzheimer’s, the person may forget repeatedly, and also struggle to recall the names of friends or family members. They may also get lost even on unfamiliar journeys, and forget about appointments or events such as birthdays and national holidays.
The patient may have trouble in planning ahead, and may struggle to carry out tasks in a logical order, such as putting on clothes in the right way, or following a recipe. They may also change in their personality, from an outgoing person with lots of interests and hobbies, to a more withdrawn and irritable person.
In the later stages of the disease, the person will require full time care, either in their own home or a nursing home. If they live into the later stages of the disease, they will eventually need help to eat, use the toilet, and wash themselves. It is common to have problems with balance and mobility, which heightens the risk of trips and falls.
Recently, there has been a breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, as scientists have revealed that the drug lecanemab is the first to slow the progress of the disease.
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