Alzheimer’s: The Staggering Statistics
Before any signs of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) becomes apparent, microscopic changes in the brain begin. Abnormal structures like plaques and tangles are the suspected cause of the damage that occurs. Alzheimer’s cannot be diagnosed with certainty until after death, though the current diagnostic tools we have can get us reasonably close. Clinical research has been working hard to find new ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease. A new blood test is showing the promise of reducing the diagnostic process. There is no cure for AD, but our understanding of what causes it is growing.
Prevalence of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of memory and cognitive issues severe enough to interfere with daily life. It progresses slowly, gradually worsening over time until the person is unable to carry on a conversation or respond to their environment. The statistics are staggering:
- More than 5 million people are living with AD.
- 6th leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more individuals with breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
- After the diagnosis of AD, a person lives on average 4-8 years. Some can live another 20, depending on other factors.
- 1 in 3 seniors dies from AD or another related dementia.
Memory loss occurs as we age, and it is hard to tell the difference between what is normal and what is not. The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 early signs and symptoms of AD. The important thing to remember is that AD symptoms are not occasional; these are lasting issues that worsen over time. You may misplace something, then remember it later. With AD, you lose it and can’t find it again. Here are the early signs:
- Memory issues that interrupt daily life.
- Changes in planning or solving problems.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
New Blood Test
Let’s go back to those plaques and tangles. With AD, these are proteins that build up in the brain and eventually kill the nerve cells. Plaques build up in the spaces between nerve cells. They are called beta-amyloids (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyds). Tangles build up inside of the cells and are called “tau.” When testing is done with AD, they are looking for the presence of these proteins. Previously, they found these through spinal fluid and PET scans, which is time-consuming, expensive, and more invasive.
This new blood test detects the abnormal accumulation of the tau protein in a person’s blood plasma. The study conducted on this new method showed results similar to the current techniques.
Hope for AD through Research
If approved, this new blood test will make the clinical trial testing process, as well as testing that is done in your specialists’ office, more cost-effective and efficient. A worldwide mission is underway to identify new early diagnosis methods, improved treatments, and a cure. Some research is looking into a way to reduce the plaque and tangle proteins of AD to delay or prevent symptoms. Others are looking into the increased risk for developing AD from vascular diseases.
If you are interested in seeing how you can get involved in our research studies at Florida Institute for clinical research, call (407) 658-0966 or visit us here.