Alzheimers Disease Research : New techniques may lead to early detection

BOSTON, MA — Although Alzheimer's disease begins long before symptoms appear, early diagnosis of Alzheimer's has so far been elusive. And given that there is no cure for the disease, benefits of early detection remain questionable. The October issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter reports on new ways to detect Alzheimer's early—and reasons to want to do so.

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, tests of cognitive function are the best way so far to predict whether healthy elderly people will develop Alzheimer's. In one study, more than 80% of people who scored below a certain level on a test of delayed word recall developed Alzheimer's over the next 10 years. Brain scans may also prove useful. Research suggests that they are now almost as accurate as psychological tests in predicting the course of the illness.

Researchers are working on ways to detect small changes in beta-amyloid and tau protein—biological markers for the disease—in blood and spinal fluid. They're also making progress in determining the genetic markers for Alzheimer's.

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