New tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease are emerging, offering hope for new treatments and therapies.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the memory disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and more than 5 million people are currently living with the disease. In fact, for seniors, a third of all deaths stem from either Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Although there is no cure in sight, for now, every effort is being made to find a way to diagnose and treat this growing threat.
According to The Wall Street Journal, there is support for a new approach to how Alzheimer’s is identified in the population, and it could lead to dramatically earlier warnings of the disease and accelerate research. New approaches hope to discover the disease before symptoms ever present.
Like finding malignant cells in the body to find cancer or plaque buildup in the arteries for heart disease, the presence of amyloid and tau proteins could be the key to early identification. Previously, doctors could only see these proteins during an autopsy, but improved technology has allowed for these markers to be seen in living patients. These scans are sometimes used to rule out Alzheimer’s in patients with various cognitive issues. Critics of the method agree that the process works to identify amyloid proteins but argue that there is no definitive way to predict whether the patient will actually develop symptoms.
Another test involves recognition of smells. One of the first things to decline is the ability to smell, which is associated with the first cranial nerve, according to WebMD. Researchers have found the ability to smell differs between nostrils in Alzheimer’s patients, but it is still too early to say definitively if this will be a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s.
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