Currently, the only way doctors can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is to document a patient’s medical history, perform a neurological exam (to test reflexes, coordination, muscle tone, strength, eye movement, speech, and sensation), and perform cognitive tests for problem-solving and memory. But by the time a diagnosis is given, the disease has already caused severe brain damage, and little can be done to slow or reverse the effects.
As we look to the future of Alzheimer’s research, scientists are hopeful that they are close to being able to diagnose the disease before irreversible mental decline begins. And with early detection comes the possibility of better treatment and even prevention.
Here are five of the most active areas in the field of Alzheimer’s science that may one day unlock the door to a future without the disease.
1. Biomarkers for Early Detection
A biomarker is something that can indicate the presence of disease. Several potential biomarkers are being studied including beta-amyloid and tau levels in cerebrospinal fluid.
2. Brain Imaging
Three types of imaging are being studied: Structural imaging (determining the shape, position, and volume of brain tissue), functional imaging (determining how well cells in certain regions are working and using sugar and oxygen), and molecular imaging (using targeted radiotracers to detect cellular or chemical changes in the brain).
3. Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Proteins
Changes in CSF (a clear fluid that cushions the brain and spinal cord) levels of multiple markers can potentially determine abnormal brain deposits that are present in Alzheimer’s patients.
4. Blood Tests
Possibly the easiest and least expensive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s, a simple blood test may one day be able to determine measurable changes of specific markers in the blood.
5. Genetic Testing
Scientists have already determined several genes that cause Alzheimer’s or increase the risk of developing the disease. Genetic profiling may help predict with relative accuracy who will be at risk.
Researchers have a lot of work ahead of them, but progress is continually being made and the future looks bright for better detection, treatment, and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.