Harvard Mental Health Letter

Biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease

The research advances incrementally, but clinical use is still years away.

The brain changes that lead to Alzheimer's disease probably begin years, and possibly even more than a decade, before symptoms such as memory impairment appear. For this reason, Alzheimer's researchers have long hoped to find biomarkers — early biological signs of disease pathology — that could help identify people at risk before symptoms develop.

Heart disease provides one example of how biomarkers can be useful. Elevated levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol or total cholesterol, detected with a simple blood test, are biomarkers that indicate someone may be at increased risk of having a heart attack. Statins (anti-cholesterol drugs) reduce both LDL levels and risk of heart attack.

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