Alzheimer’s disease impacts millions of American families each year. But determining its presence has been a long and costly endeavor. That’s all about to change thanks to a newly introduced Alzheimer’s blood test.
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably noticed the medical community is all a-buzz about the recent discovery of a blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease, even in its earliest stages.
In fact, the excitement about this groundbreaking discovery has spilled over into the general population.
With Alzheimer’s disease being the most common of dementia, accounting for an estimated 70% of total dementia cases and impacting more than 6.5 million Americans in 2022—it’s no wonder folks are interested and excited about this new discovery.
Even Disney’s gotten in on the narrative!
You may have stumbled upon one of the many recent articles discussing how Chris Hemsworth is taking a step back from his acting career to focus on his family, after learning he’s at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease while filming his health and longevity-focused television series, Limitless.
Because even the mighty Thor isn’t immune from Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a condition that can and does impact many lives.
With a known genetic component and a familial subset, it may be well worth exploring your personal risks for Alzheimer’s more deeply.
So what is this new Alzheimer’s blood test? And what can it offer you in your quest to better understand your own risks and help your older loved ones assess their cognitive health and wellness?
Let’s unpack all of that, so you can have a better understanding of what this test offers, and whether pursuing it is the right choice for you and your family.
What is the New Alzheimer’s Blood Test?
Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia with a clear medical diagnosis. But, in the past, Alzheimer’s disease was only able to be confirmed with absolute certainty after a person suspected to have it passed away.
The common diagnostic process for Alzheimer’s disease typically involved a combination of cognitive testing, medical history review, personal interviews, and neuroimaging tests such as MRIs and CT scans.
These brain images tests are used to assess changes in the brain, known to be consistent with Alzheimer’s dementia. Both primary care doctors and specialists like neurologists are typically involved in this process.
Using these techniques, doctors could determine the presence of Alzheimer’s with decent accuracy.
The problem? This litany of tests and procedures is lengthy, intensive, and expensive.
Enter—the new Alzheimer’s blood test.
Dementia researchers have long held hope that a blood test could be devised to accurately detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
These hopes were finally realized when scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO developed a blood test that’s been shown to accurately detect crucial Alzheimer’s markers—even before a person is showing significant symptoms of the condition.
But how does it work? And why is it such an important discovery?
Let’s explore how the blood test functions.
How Can Alzheimer’s Be Detected by a Blood Test?
The test works by detecting the presence of protein accumulations that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s dementia.
These errant, tangled clusters of proteins, also known as plaques, are believed to be the cause of the progressive cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Known technically as amyloid proteins, these accumulations occur when crucial proteins in the body and brain enter into what’s called an amyloid state.
In this state, normal proteins become elongated, and they form clusters that really gunk up the system. Amyloid proteins are found in Alzheimer’s disease as well as many other diseases and conditions.
When amyloid plaques are present in the brain, they leave behind clues in the bloodstream.
Scientists were able to locate and track these clues, and connect what’s happening in the blood to what’s going on in the brain.
Specifically, researchers discovered that the ratio levels of two types of amyloid beta proteins in the blood can accurately indicate whether these proteins are being overproduced and accumulating in the brain.
To be sure their findings were legitimate, they conducted a study of thousands of patients, with participants from a range of cultures and geographic locations.
What they found was—using blood biomarkers was highly accurate in predicting Alzheimer’s presence and risks.
If you’re interested, you can check out the research article detailing the study and its results right here.
Why is This Such a Game-Changer for Alzheimer’s Detection and Care?
Well, in large part because blood tests are simple, easy to perform, and cost-effective.
Instead of expecting a person who may be dealing with the effects of cognitive decline to undergo lengthy, invasive, and costly procedures to determine if their issues are the result of Alzheimer’s—they can simply submit to a quick and easy blood test.
This streamlines the entire diagnostic process, and also greatly improves the overall patient experience.
While the blood test may not eliminate the need for more intensive diagnostic measures such as PET scans, it can be used as an effective screening tool—to help determine if further testing is warranted.
This can help reduce and control costs not only for patients, but for the healthcare system as a whole.
With the estimated cost of the blood test at between $500 and $1300 (with some insurance plans covering a portion), and the average PET scan costing somewhere between $5k and $8k—the potential savings of both time and money are immense.
In addition, the blood test can help determine not only the presence of, but the risks for developing Alzheimer’s disease in those tested.
That’s because it not only measures blood biomarkers for amyloid plaques in the brain, it also accounts for the APOE gene, which is linked to increased Alzheimer’s risk.
This breakthrough is important for two reasons—
- It helps people to know their personal risks for developing Alzheimer’s
- It can enhance research and treatment efforts for Alzheimer’s disease, by getting healthy people involved in clinical trials to track, monitor and assess brain changes in those at risk for the condition—even before the disease process begins
The more we know about Alzheimer’s disease, and can track its progression from its earliest moments—the chances improve of finding a cure, as well as new and more effective treatments.
How Can I Get the Alzheimer’s Blood Test?
Now that you’re aware of what the new Alzheimer’s blood test is and how it can help—you may be interested in learning how you can get the test for yourself or a loved one.
The test is officially cleared by the FDA for widespread use and goes by the name—PrecivityAD.
It’s primarily intended for use in people aged 60 to 91 with early signs and symptoms of cognitive impairment.
The blood for the test can be drawn by your regular doctor or lab, and then is sent off for testing with results typically available in ten days.
Now, if you’re interested in learning more about your risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease, and don’t fall into that category, there are other options available for you to pursue.
Genetic testing is an avenue some people choose to travel in order to gain a deeper understanding of their risks for developing dementia, particularly when a family history exists.
Well-known companies like 23andMe offer genetic testing that can determine the presence of the APOE4 gene, which is known to be linked to higher risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease in those who carry it.
It should be noted, however, that genetics aren’t the whole story when it comes to determining if you’ll develop dementia. Several lifestyle factors are also believed to be important in the risks for this condition.
The National Institute on Aging published some helpful guidelines on genetic testing for dementia. They recommend anyone wishing to pursue genetic testing who isn’t doing so as part of a research study should also consider genetic counseling, which can help you understand and interpret the genetic data and your personal risks.
Here’s a link to the website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors for more info.
It’s important to keep risks in perspective when it comes to Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Having increased risk factors for a condition does not make it a certainty.
But, being aware of your risk factors for dementia can help you implement lifestyle changes and other choices that can mitigate your risks for ever developing this condition.
If you have a loved one who is experiencing changes in their cognition and you’re concerned and interested in gaining more information about the underlying causes of these outward changes—discussing the Alzheimer’s blood test with them and their doctor can be a step forward in understanding the nature of these issues.
Especially if your loved one is averse to the idea of more invasive and expensive forms of testing—the blood test can be a positive alternative to explore.
Because you care—you can help your loved ones to understand and make the best, most informed, proactive healthcare choices.
Now that you know more about the Alzheimer’s blood test and how it works, you can share this knowledge with those in your life who can benefit from this new breakthrough in dementia care.
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