Predicting Alzheimer's disease

May 14, 2009 2:03:21 PM PDT
It is very difficult to predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease, as there is no diagnostic test. Now, researchers in California have devised a simple, 15-point test to make it easier to determine who is likely to develop Alzheimer's or dementia. Experts say it could be a useful tool. The numbers of people with Alzheimer's, the largest cause of dementia, is growing.

There are few treatments, which is why neurologist Dr. Nikos Scarmeas says this new index published in the journal Neurology will be useful.

"If we could identify people at earlier stages before the symptoms of the disease start or when very subtle symptoms occur, we may be able to find effective treatments," Dr. Scarmeas said.

He says identifying a population at high risk for Alzheimer's can help patients, their families and aid researchers.

In this dementia risk index, points are given for certain characteristics.

Having the ae-4 gene, for example, is one point. Doing poorly on cognitive tests is two to four points. Age, one to two points.

"There is a gradual risk for getting dementia with increasing age," Dr. Scarmeas said.

Cardiovascular health is also a contributing risk for dementia.

A history of bypass surgery gets one point on the risk index. So do other vessel problems like thickening of the carotid artery, because that can cause small strokes and, in turn, dementia.

There are also physical characteristics like being thin or physically slow.

And interestingly, not consuming alcohol could add points.

"Most studies have suggested that mild to moderate consumption of alcohol are probably protective," said Dr. Scarmeas.

The more points a persons gets, the higher the risk of developing dementia. But remember, this is only a test for the probability of developing dementia, so you only get odds, not a certainty.

Web produced by Maura Sweeney


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