Why These Researchers Still Believe In Simple Tests For Predicting Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in America, and one that currently has limited treatment and no cure. Continuous research is allowing for better care and prevention, and new breakthroughs are helping doctors catch signs of the disease earlier and earlier.
In a new study, published today in Biological Psychiatry, researchers have outlined how small things, like poorer performance on a memory test, can be an early sign of the build up of proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease before the buildup is even noticeable.
How Do Proteins Relate To Alzheimer's Disease?
Medically, Alzheimer's is classified as having to do with the damaging buildup of proteins, in pariticular one known as β-amyloid (Aβ). When this protein accumulates in the brain, it can actually lead to the death of neurons—and therefore diseases like dementia.
With all the research surrounding the disease, there have been updates to the frameworks for diagnosing Alzheimer's, and the build-up of Aβ has recently been recently added as the first stage of the disease. This comes before cognitive impairment even begins, according to the current model. But the new study found that nearly unnoticeable memory loss may be occuring earlier and may be a predictor of the future buildup of Aβ.
"Recent evidence suggests more subtle cognitive changes may appear earlier in the disease than commonly appreciated," said Jeremy A. Elman, Ph.D., assistant professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and an author of the study.
How Do Cognitive Tests Help?
When the study began, none of the participants showed signs of Aβ build-up, however at the end of the follow up period 40 participants tested positive. All participants also completed memory tests and other cognitive checks. The researchers found that those who had performed worse on cognition had a higher risk of testing positive for Aβ during follow up.
They also found that even extremely low Aβ levels, below what is used in diagnosis currently, can be a sign of potential future continued buildup and that "cognitive performance was still significantly predictive even after controlling for this pathology," said Elman.
The reassurance of the use of simple cognition tests in diagnosing and predicting Alzheimer's disease means that these low-cost procedures are still worthwhile and even useful as Alzheimer's research continues. As research into the area continues, identifying people who are at risk for the disease can help better treat them and potentially aid in the research needed to eventually find a cure.
While there isn't a cure for this disease, there are things that seem to help with promoting brain health and delaying dementia. The keto diet, exercise, and even drinking coffee have all been linked to helping stave off the disease.
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