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Could New Way of Defining Alzheimer’s Lead Help Lead to Treatment/Cure?

April 12
15:28 2018

Image result for old person

Alzheimer’s disease is something we’ve all heard of and something we all dread. Many of us followed the tragic deterioration of former President Ronald Reagan as this form of dementia took his mind and body.

Many of us know someone who has or is fighting Alzheimer’s disease. It not only takes a toll on the person, but on all of those around them, especially those closest to them who take care them. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love lose their mental capacities, from the early days of confusion and memory loss to the time when they don’t even know who you are, where they are, who they are or what they are doing.

A friend of mine described watching his grandfather with Alzheimer’s as seeing him slowly revert to a helpless infant in an adult body. My friend was a strong and rugged man, but when he spoke of the experience with his grandfather, his eyes teared up and his voice was choked off several times. It broke my heart to see just how much it impacted this ‘he’ man but that’s what Alzheimer’s does.

Currently, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed on a variety of displayed symptoms. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, those symptoms are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Some researchers feel that diagnosing Alzheimer’s based on these symptoms is inadequate and problematic.  Clifford Jack, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Mayo Clinic Rochester explained:

“In the past, ‘a person displayed a certain set of signs and symptoms and it was expected that they had Alzheimer’s pathology’…”

“About 30 percent of people who met all the appropriate clinical criteria did not have Alzheimer’s disease.”

Consequently, researchers like Jack are looking at a different way of determining if a person really has Alzheimer’s as opposed to other forms of dementia. Again, Jack explains:

“What we’re seeing now is that Alzheimer’s disease is defined by the presence of plaques and tangles in your brain.”

By looking at Alzheimer’s differently, Jack says the symptoms are a result of the disease, not the definition of it.

New types of brain scans and spinal fluid tests have been developed to test for the plaques and tangles he is speaking of. Finding those at earlier stages, before the typical symptoms have been manifested, could make it easier to offer treatment that could slow down the process of developing Alzheimer’s which in turn could offer longer productive and cognitive lives.

There are those who say the biomarker tests are sufficient to be used as an early diagnostic tool but admit that the process with further development offers more hope down the road.

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