The National Institute on Aging (NIH) estimates that Alzheimer’s disease may affect more than six million Americans, most of them age 65 or older. This irreversible brain disorder devastates cognition and is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s requires highly specialized care; unfortunately, healthcare providers frequently misdiagnose Alzheimer’s due to several diagnosis roadblocks. However, a new diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease could greatly reduce misdiagnosis. The research behind the test was recently published in Nature Medicine and cited in Science Daily.
The Need for Improved Alzheimer’s Diagnostic Tests
As mentioned above, misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s is an all-too-common issue plaguing the medical community. Per Science Daily, about 30 percent of Alzheimer’s patients are misdiagnosed within specialist healthcare, with even worse statistics in standard primary care. There are several factors contributing to the frequency of misdiagnosis. First, doctors need complicated tests like PET scans and spinal fluid samples to properly measure the proteins that help indicate Alzheimer’s. However, these methods can be cost-prohibitive to some patients. Often, medical professionals must opt for cheaper, but less reliable alternatives. This leads to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, both of which can lead to worse disease outcomes and earlier death.
A Promising New Diagnostic Test for Alzheimer’s Disease
In an effort to identify better Alzheimer’s testing options, a team from Sweden’s Lund University designed an innovative new study. The study involved 340 Swedish patients and 543 American patients, all with mild memory loss that may or may not have been symptomatic of Alzheimer’s disease. First, the researchers took simple blood samples to measure the concentration of the tau protein, a neural protein that often serves as a key indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. After that, the researchers conducted three brief cognitive tests. The entire process took about 10 minutes, and it predicted with over 90 percent accuracy which patients would develop Alzheimer’s disease within four years. With this in mind, the researchers used the test to develop an online algorithm prototype. If approved, the algorithm could be widely available to medical professionals. This could help make Alzheimer’s diagnosis significantly easier and more affordable.
Study Lead Oskar Hansson explained that the simple algorithm used in the test was actually more accurate than clinical predictions. These predictions were made by dementia experts who examined the patients but lacked complex diagnostic equipment. Ideally, the test could support diagnostic measures in clinics without access to advanced diagnostic instruments. “Our hope is that [the algorithm] will also be validated for use in primary healthcare as well as in developing countries with limited resources,” says researcher Sebastian Palmqvist. Hansson went on to explain that simplifying diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s could also serve drug development. “The algorithm will enable us to recruit people with Alzheimer’s at an early stage, which is when new drugs have a better chance of slowing the course of the disease,” Hansson said. Ultimately, there are numerous drugs that can slow down Alzheimer’s progression. These drugs are especially effective if doctors catch the disease at an early stage.
A new diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease could support every facet of the medical system. By identifying the early signs of Alzheimer’s, doctors may have more time to introduce potentially beneficial treatments. At the same time, drug development experts may have access to a greater pool of patients. This may serve to dramatically advance future Alzheimer’s treatments.
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