Alzheimer's Test: Mayo Clinic Develops Simple Test for Dementia
June 27, 2017
Testing for Alzheimer's Disease is an expensive and complicated proposition at the moment but the Mayo Clinic may have a solution. They've released a study this week on a three-part test for dementia that could be done in your physician's office.
Detecting Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's is on the rise and while there is great hope a way of reducing symptoms or even curing the illness are on the way it continues to devastate lives. It's estimated that more than 36 million people suffer from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia and that in the U.S. alone as much as $220 billion is spent dealing with it each year.
Science believes that the amyloid plaques that form on the brain and lead to Alzheimer's or a less common form of dementia, begin to form years, even decades, before signs of the illness appear. But the methods of detection currently available are too expensive and cumbersome.
One involves a costly brain imaging technique, the other involves extracting fluid from the spine. Dr. Ronald Petersen, the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic, notes that neither test is workable from the standpoint of screening for the illness.
“We have either expensive techniques or invasive techniques and it’s not practical to do them from a public health screening standpoint," Dr. Petersen said. "If we had a simple blood test, a cholesterol test for Alzheimer’s disease, that would help. But we don't."
Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's study
At the Mayo Clinic, he and peers created a method of testing that appears to be effective and relatively easy to achieve. They've used it in a study of 1,500 people and the results show promise. They found those who scored high on the test were seven times more likely to develop some degree of cognitive impairment than those who scored low.
Here's a description from Time Magazine on how the test is conducted:
In the first phase of the test, his researchers simply collected information from 1,500 patients’ medical charts—their age, family history of Alzheimer’s, factors such as diabetes or smoking that have been linked to Alzheimer’s, and whether the patient had ever reported problems with memory.
In the next phase they studied the results of the patient’s basic mental exam as well as of a psychiatric evaluation, because depression and anxiety have been connected to Alzheimer’s.
And another factor that emerged as important in developing the disease—how quickly the participant could walk a short distance.
Dr. Petersen said they "were a little surprised" that how a patient walked a short distance was an indicator of potential dementia but said "it’s a nice non-cognitive, motor factor so it’s looking at another aspect of brain function.”More study needs to be done, Dr. Petersen said, before they can recommend it as a tool for doctors. Their intention is to conduct other studies to see if their results are duplicated.
Early detection of dementia would allow for existing treatment options to begin earlier. It might also convince patients to alter lifestyle choices, such as smoking and poor dietary habits, that are believed to contribute to dementia.There is at least one other method of early detection being worked upon by researchers, and a number of methods of curing the illness are also being studied.
The Mayo Clinic study is called Predicting the risk of mild cognitive impairment in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging and was published in the medical journal Neurology.