Recent research suggests that a new laboratory test can help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease quickly and easily. This test was confirmed in two studies in which the researchers found a specific protein whose presence increased as the disease progressed.
Alzheimer’s disease, also known as AD, is a form of dementia and is sometimes referred to as Alzheimer’s disease. In the United States, AD is the sixth leading cause of death affecting one in ten Americans who are 65 years of age and older. The estimated number of Americans with AD last year was 5.8 million, of whom 80 percent are over 75 years old.
How Alzheimer’s is diagnosed
AD is diagnosed by testing the person’s memory and problem-solving skills to assess the patient’s cognitive decline. Family members are usually included in discussions about their loved one’s ability to safely perform basic tasks and take proper care of themselves. Brain scans (MRI, CT, PET) are often used to look for any visible degenerative changes in the brain. Sometimes the spinal fluid obtained through the spinal tap is analyzed for signs of AD. These tests take time to complete, are often expensive, and make clinical trials for AD difficult to participate in.
Blood tests are currently only used to measure thyroid and B12 levels because vitamin B12 deficiency and thyroid disease can be similar to symptoms of AD.
New blood test
Two studies last year, one in California with 404 people and one in Sweden with 1,131 people, showed similar results. These studies looked for an important protein that had gone bad – dew. Good rope maintains the stability of the connectors between cells. These connectors move important molecules from one cell to the next. The researchers looked specifically for pTau 181.
And they found it.
The amount of plasma pTau 181 increased from a normal value to a higher value in people who developed AD but had no clear symptoms to an even higher value in people diagnosed with AD. This increased Blood test only specifically indicated AD; and has not been found in people with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s.
The data suggest that plasma pTau181 could be useful as a screening tool to identify AD in people at risk of cognitive decline or who already have cognitive impairment. This could be very helpful as AD could be identified and its symptoms treated before the first signs begin. For people who already have a cognitive decline, this test would clearly show whether the decline was due to AD. This blood test is relatively cheap and easy to do, so patients can avoid brain scans and the spinal tap.
While research into AD treatments continues, current medications may only temporarily improve difficulties related to thinking, thinking, and memory loss.
These drugs assist brain chemicals that carry information from brain cell to brain cell. But they are unable to stop the decline and death of the brain cells that allow AD to progress.
Medication for mild to moderate AD
AD patients and their carers deal with behavioral and mental health issues, including:
Cholinesterase inhibitors are drugs that are prescribed for mild to moderate AD. They can help reduce some symptoms and control some behavioral symptoms. These drugs are: Razadyne (galantamine), Exelon (rivastigmine), and Aricept (donepezil).
These treatments are designed to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to be important for memory and thinking. Cholinesterase inhibitors may become less effective because the brain produces less acetylcholine as AD progresses.
These three drugs act similarly, so switching from one to the other is unlikely to make a significant difference. But a patient may respond better to one AD drug than another.
Medication for moderate to severe AD
Namenda (memantine) is used to treat patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. It reduces symptoms so some people can take better care of themselves. Increasing the amount of time they can use the bathroom independently is a benefit.
Other FDA-approved drugs for moderate to severe AD include: donepezil, the rivastigmine patch, and Namzaric, a combination of memantine and donepezil.
Memantine is thought to work by regulating a brain chemical called glutamate. Too much glutamate can lead to brain cell death. Because memantine works differently from cholinesterase inhibitors, the two types of drugs can be prescribed in combination.
Yvonne Stolworthy MSN, RN has spent many years in critical care and as an educator in a variety of settings, including clinical trials. She is currently applying her nursing knowledge to health journalism.