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Published on: January 26, 2013
by Sarah Stevenson for A Place For Mom:
When it comes to diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, the prevailing mantra is “the earlier the better.” The problem, of course, is that there are many potential causes for dementia, and by the time doctors are able to detect mental decline, Alzheimer’s has already begun to irreversibly damage the brain. Not only that, until recently it was only possible to confirm an Alzheimer’s diagnosis through posthumous brain examination.
Cutting-edge research in the field of Alzheimer’s testing promises to change the way we diagnose the disease, and that’s encouraging news. With a new battery of tests in the arsenal, doctors are hoping to begin pinpointing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease before patients start to show symptoms.
Common Tests for Alzheimer’s Focus on Symptoms and Risk Factors
If you’re worried about cognitive changes or memory loss in an elderly loved one, a good first step is an interview with your family doctor or general practitioner. He or she will probably ask a variety of questions about their memory difficulties as well as their general health, medical history, and whether or not anyone else in the family has ever been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
If your loved one is determined to be at risk for Alzheimer’s, the doctor may refer you to a specialist for further testing—usually a psychiatrist and/or a neurologist. The specialist will look for particular patterns that tend to distinguish Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms from other types of memory loss.
Standard tests include:
The Latest News on Early Detection:
Right now there is no single test that can indicate Alzheimer’s early enough for truly effective treatment. However,cutting-edge research is pointing to some promising avenues of detection in the area of biomarkers, which are biological indicators that reliably predict disease:
Many of the newest tests that are available are not yet covered by Medicare or other insurance, and they are not cheap—the PET scan for amyloid plaques, for instance, costs $3,250, according to CBS News. And genetic testing carries its own risks aside from the price tag—it’s possible that the presence of an Alzheimer’s gene could affect insurance eligibility, notes the Alzheimer’s Association.
Nevertheless, it’s likely that the next few years will continue to see major advances in early diagnosis and testing for Alzheimer’s disease, and that’s good news for families and caregivers concerned about the risk of dementia.
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