I read recently about a new low cost blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease which could be available for clinical use in the next 2-3 years. The test detects certain Tau proteins along with amyloid plaque tangles which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease even in individuals not currently showing symptoms of cognitive impairment as much as twenty years before expected memory problems. Research about this test was published in JAMA and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The blood test was used to study over 1400 people in separate research groups in Sweden, Columbia, and the United States. It performed better than costlier MRI brain scans, on par with PET scans or spinal taps, and nearly as accurately as the most definitive current diagnostic tool: autopsies performed after death.
The Tau protein, unlike amyloids found in scans, tends to increase as dementia worsens, giving doctors greater predictive ability. Besides being a useful screening tool to establish the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, it could be helpful in ruling out Alzheimer’s and diagnosing other more treatable, less aggressive conditions. More simplified, immediate, and cheaper access to clinical trials could yield more essential data to move a cure along quicker. It opens up the possibilities of new diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. No wonder the scientists are excited!
Early detection could lead to quicker interventions, but we currently do not have an effective treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Ethical considerations abound. Is it better to know early on that you have a devastating condition which has no known cure? Testing for certain genetic diseases such as Huntington’s and Breast Cancer has always been controversial. Not everyone trusts genetic tests or wants to be burdened for years by what could be a false positive result. If you had a definitive result of such a test before symptoms, would you live your life differently? Would you join clinical trials as soon as possible? Would you inform your loved ones and potential partners? Would you rather know what is coming or take life as it comes?
For the roughly six million people in the United States and thirty million worldwide who already know they have Alzheimer’s disease, this blood test won’t change their lives, but what about double that number who are predicted to have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050? More research is needed to standardize the testing and gain regulatory approval, but scientists are amazed by the possibilities this little blood test could provide in the near future, a breakthrough unthinkable even five years ago.
This test might even further prove Naomi Feil’s theory that what is now called late onset Alzheimer’s disease is not really a disease but a normal, human reaction to an overwhelming amount of losses that occurs with advanced age. That “it’s not just the state of the brain that influences disorientation,” but a combination of factors that includes psychological and social losses plus the ability or inability to cope with these losses.
Validation is used to communicate with people with late-onset Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It is a proven method that helps rebuild and maintain relationships, providing joy to both caregiver and receiver. The main goal of Validation is to help older adults find peace in the final stage of life.
By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President