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Advances in Alzheimer's testing may lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment

Category: General Wellness

Over the past few months, U.S. researchers have been able to assemble several indicative tests that can help diagnosis early stage Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's is a progressive and fatal brain disorder that currently affects over five million Americans. It actively destroys brain cells, causing memory loss, impaired thinking and abnormal behavior. The disease is currently the nation's seventh-leading cause of death, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, early diagnosis is crucial as scientists continue to come up with alternative treatments for symptoms related to the disease. Presently, researchers are looking into ways to delay the onset of the disorder while attempting to prevent it from developing.

According to recent behavioral testing, cognitive fluctuations such as excessive daytime sleepiness, staring into space or disorganized thinking are more likely to occur in older people who are developing Alzheimer's than in their healthy peers.

Senior author James Galvin, a Washington University neurologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and his colleagues evaluated over 500 older adults with memory problems whose average age was 78. Participants were given thinking and memory skills tests and were checked for prolonged daytime sleepiness, lethargy, illogical thinking and instances of staring into space.

Researchers found that those with mental lapses were 4.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

"If you have these lapses, they don't by themselves mean that you have Alzheimer's," says Galvin. "Such lapses do occur in healthy older adults, but our results suggest that they are something your doctor needs to consider if he or she is evaluating you for problems with thinking and memory."

Follow your nose

Meanwhile, a separate study has found that the loss of smell may also be an early indicator of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine and Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research discovered a direct link between the development of amyloid plaques – the leading cause of Alzheimer's disease – and a deteriorating sense of smell, according to News Day.

In the laboratory study, scientists determined that the plaques first develop in the part of the brain devoted to the sense of smell.

"This is a revealing finding because, unlike a brain scan, a laboratory-designed olfactory test may be an inexpensive alternative to early diagnosis of Alzheimer's," said co-author Daniel Wesson.

Emerging Treatments

With every advancement in Alzheimer's testing comes a multitude of studies concerned with treatment of the disease.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have recently developed and patented a nutrient beverage designed to slow the progress of Alzheimer's in patients with mild forms of the disease.

In a recent study at the Vrije Universiteit Medical Center in Amsterdam, Netherlands, scientists found that the nutrient cocktail containing three key ingredients found in human milk—B vitamins, phospholipids and antioxidants—aided verbal memory in patients with early-stage Alzheimer's.

University researchers discovered that 41 percent of respondents who drank the nutrient beverage improved their score on a word test designed for patients afflicted with the disease. Approximately 24 percent of patients who consumed a control drink also showed a positive change.

However, some critics believe that the results of the study are due mostly to chance.

"I see little evidence to support the use of this beverage to improve memory in [Alzheimer's disease patients]," said Dr Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer's expert and professor at the University of California, San Diego, quoted by ABC News. "It was a small study of treatment-naïve patients lasting only 12 weeks."

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