A New Alzheimer's Blood Test May Improve Diagnosis & Treatment

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When older adults start misplacing things or forgetting appointments, it's not uncommon to assume those memory slips are precursors to dementia, Alzheimer's disease (AD), or other cognitive impairments. But thanks to research led by the University of California San Francisco, a blood test may help distinguish those minor mishaps from something more serious

A study published in the journal Nature Medicine found a blood test that (if approved) could distinguish minor cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease from frontotemporal dementia (FTD). 

What did the researchers find?

Scientists took blood samples from 56 adults with Alzheimer's, 47 with mild cognitive impairment, 190 with FTD, and 69 healthy participants. All adults were between 58 and 70 years old and had their blood taken to measure tau 181 (pTau181) levels. 

The protein, pTau181, becomes tangled in patients with Alzheimer's, making it a significant predictor in the disease. In fact, the protein levels were 3.5 times higher in people with AD than without. 

Participants with frontotemporal dementia had the same tau range as the healthy group, which helped lead to more accurate diagnoses since AD and FTP are commonly confused. 

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What is frontotemporal dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia comes in many forms, but the group of neurodegenerative disorders are caused by a deterioration of the frontal and temporal lobes in the brain. They often lead to issues with behavior, emotion, language, and decision-making. 

According to a news release, frontotemporal dementia is as common as Alzheimer's in adults under 65. 

Why is this blood test helpful?

Currently, the only viable testing for Alzheimer's requires expensive equipment or invasive surgeries like a spinal tap, but a blood test could be performed in a matter of minutes during a normal doctor's visit. 

Increasing access to this type of treatment could help more people understand their risk of developing Alzheimer's and potentially encourage them to enroll in clinical trials to help find a treatment. 

"Being able to easily diagnose Alzheimer's disease at early stages may be especially beneficial to patients with mild cognitive impairment, some of whom may have early Alzheimer's disease," said senior author Adam Boxer, M.D., Ph.D. "Individuals with early Alzheimer's are more likely to respond to many of the new treatments that are being developed."

While this blood test still needs to be approved, the researchers hope to see it in doctors' offices in the next five years. Until then, keeping your brain sharp through aerobic exercise, stimulating games, and certain foods, might delay brain aging.

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