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A Simpler Way to Detect Alzheimer’s

A simple, speedy blood test could help in identifying Alzheimer’s disease, recent studies reveal. The tests can detect levels of beta amyloid, the widely suspected cause of Alzheimer’s disease, with 96% accuracy even before symptoms appear, offering hope for quicker diagnosis and prompt treatment of an as-yet-incurable disease.  

Previously, detecting Alzheimer’s was possible only after symptoms had progressed severely. But with this new blood test, screening could take place much sooner, and with new medications formulated to slow Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline now available, early detection will be more critical than ever. 

Blood Test Could Screen All Seniors  

Given that Alzheimer’s disease begins to change the brain as much as 20 years before symptoms are noticeable, routine screening could be highly effective in getting people the care they need. Advocates say that in the future, people over 50 may be periodically screened for Alzheimer’s disease, just as they are for high cholesterol.  

CMS recently removed a National Coverage Determination which limited patients to a once-per-lifetime cap on PET scans. As coverage for these scans is being handled at the local level, a blood-based test could provide a useful tool to identify which patients could benefit from additional diagnostics. 

The blood test for the protein amyloid beta and p-tau217, another biomarker for Alzheimer’s, turned out to work just as well as lumbar puncture, researchers found. The utility of the test in people not experiencing symptoms, however, remains unclear, but it presents another area for continued research. 

Future Frontiers for Research 

Rates of Alzheimer’s disease continue to rise, with an estimated 6 million Americans living with the condition and one new diagnosis every 67 seconds. Globally, where blood tests might offer the most hope to people with limited access to high-tech facilities, there are 10 million new cases each year, one every 3.2 seconds

Identifying these patients sooner, with less pain and expense, would offer genuine hope for millions. Increased research and funding to develop testing options is badly needed.  

Blood tests are relatively affordable and accessible, making the potential for early detection of Alzheimer’s through either targeted testing or routine screening enormous. Certainly, for people experiencing cognitive challenges, the immediacy of answers will be crucial to care. And, as both technologies and insurance coverage for all types of testing expand, the possibilities for revolutionizing Alzheimer’s care grow too.

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