New tests could help combat Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s, the devastating brain disease is preventable, not an inevitable part of the aging process, claim medics. The trick is to identify symptoms as early as possible in those at risk when treatment is more effective.

According to US experts, a combination of brain scans and memory tests may help in the early detection of Alzheimer’s.

This method of diagnosis, experts believe, could be a step closer to potential treatment, or at least delay the onset or progression of the debilitating brain disease that afflicts thousands of people each year.

Series of tests
A team of researchers at Harvard Med¬ical School led by Dr Dorene Rentz, associate professor of neurology enrolled 129 people over 65 with no cognitive problems. As a part of the study, the volunteers were subjected to a series of tests of memory and thinking skills.

One of the scans was intended to appraise glucose metabolism, a marker of brain activity while the second was used to spot the presence of amyloid-beta peptides which are responsible for the plaques leading to Alzheimer’s disease.

The trails revealed subjects with poor memory scores had more amyloid and less brain activity, indicating that these people may be more prone to cognitive impairment.

According to experts, amyloid can build up for more than a ten years before people start exhibiting any outward signs of dementia such as confusion or memory loss. Presently, Alzheimer’s can only detected via these plaques in a post mortem examination or brain biopsy.

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The ability to detect Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages would be a crucial step forward. This study looked at people’s cognitive performance at just one point in time and we would need to see whether those identified as being at high risk went on to develop the disease.”

The research is due to be presented at a conference in Boston.

Symptoms of disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease of the brain which affects the efficiency of the person’s nervous system adversely. Although the symptoms of Alzheimer’s affect different people in different ways, the most common sign is short-term memory loss.

Over time, the disease assumes alarming proportions. A patient starts forgetting faces, how to get to a familiar place, misplaces objects, repeat things and becomes agitated and suspicious. If the disease is detected early, consultations with a psychiatrist, a neurologist or geriatric specialist can lead to effective management of the condition.

However without timely medical intervention the brain becomes weaker and starts shrinking. As the disease advances, the memory lapses become more pronounced and the dementia begins to affect the thinking, judgment, communication, and emotional stability of the patient making him completely dependent on others to carry out their daily work.