Researchers Created a New Tool to Help Diagnose Alzheimer's Four Years Earlier Than Previous Tests Could

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Alzheimer's is a progressive form of dementia that generally begins with slight memory loss but can be difficult to diagnose. In order to identify—and hopefully begin to treat—the symptoms before they become severe, Lund University scientists developed their own diagnostic tool, which they say can be used to diagnose patients with Alzheimer's years sooner than current testing can. "Our algorithm is based on a blood analysis of phosphylactic tau and a risk gene for Alzheimer's, as well as testing memory and executive ability," Sebastian Palmqvist, the lead study author, shared in a press release. "We have now developed an online tool to calculate the risk at the individual level that a person with mild memory difficulties will develop Alzheimer's within four years."

Senior couple sitting on the beach looking at distance
Senior couple sitting on the beach looking at distance

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To come to their findings, which were recently published in the journal Nature Medicine, Professor Oskar Hansson and fellow researchers examined 340 people from the Swedish BioFINDER Study who experienced mild memory problems. They then corroborated their findings in a study with 543 Americans. By combining a blood exam and three brain tests (all totaling 10 minutes to finish), they were able to tell if someone would develop Alzheimer's based on a 90-percent accuracy rate.

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Thanks to the researchers' discovery, this could create a space for more affordable dementia exams for future patients. "At present, the algorithm has been tested on patients who have been examined in memory clinics. Our hope is that it can also be validated and used in primary care and also make a difference in developing countries where resources for specialized healthcare are more limited," Palmqvist said.

Plus, with these types of memory tools, researchers can now shift their attention more to medicine that can help slow brain aging-related issues. "But when it comes to Alzheimer's disease, it is difficult to recruit the right people for drug trials in a feasible and cost-effective way," Hansson says. "The algorithm makes it possible to recruit people with Alzheimer's at an early stage of their disease, as new drugs have a better chance of slowing down the development of the disease."