A finding that could have implications for millions of elderly and aging people shows that a blood test for Alzheimer’s Disease may be near. Alzheimer’s affects roughly 1 in 5 Americans between ages 75-84, and over 2 in 5 of people 85 and over. Currently, the test for Alzheimer’s relies on cognitive measures: memory, problem-solving, perception, etc. Examining brain tissue can provide a more definitive diagnosis by identifying plaques and tangles that gum up the works within the brain by slowing and disabling function, but this cannot generally be done while the patient is alive. A paper published in the journal Genome Biology described a test that detects differences in genetic material floating in blood. Out of 202 patients tested for Alzheimer’s the test was accurate 93% of the time.
While the test is not a cure, detecting Alzheimer’s Disease early can go a long way to staving off its most devastating effects. Alzheimer’s can be mitigated both by medication (an aspirin a day has been shown to be helpful) and cognitive practice (doing the crossword is a well-known, but sometimes questioned method of warding off Alzheimer’s Disease). Additionally, there are known genetic predispositions that affect the likeliness of whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.
While cultural attitudes toward the elderly and how they are expected to be mentally slower make Alzheimer’s less of a cause célèbre than cancer or HIV, which can strike suddenly at any age, advancements in Alzheimer’s Disease research affect millions of people, and those numbers, for now, are growing.