Results of four new research trials suggest that changes to the eyes and ability to smell may be valuable in the early detection of Alzheimer’s.
Reports presented at the 2014 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen revealed that eye exams could be used to identify build-up of beta amyloid in the brain, while a decreased ability to identify odors may be an early sign of cognitive impairment.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the development of brain plaques, and beta-amyloid is their primary component. Plaques start to develop years before cognitive decline and memory loss. In two of the studies, measuring the level of beta-amyloid in the eye correlated with brain beta-amyloid levels and was accurate in identifying people with Alzheimer’s.
In the other two studies, loss of brain cell function and the progression to Alzheimer’s disease was associated with a decreased ability to identify smell.
These findings point to potential avenues for early detection of Alzheimer’s through biomarkers. However, more research is needed to develop these tests.
Currently, Alzheimer’s can only be detected late in the disease, after significant cognitive decline and memory loss has already occurred.
There are no effective treatments currently available for any stage of the disease, although some drugs are effective for a few months for some of the people who take them. Alzheimer’s treatment is primarily symptomatic, aimed at helping patients maintain their quality of life and keeping them safe.
If early detection tests were developed, their primary purpose would be to identify patients early on in the disease process for participation in clinical trials for treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s.
As effective treatments are eventually developed, early detection could be used to intervene and provide treatments early in the development of Alzheimer’s, before significant memory loss and cognitive decline has occurred.
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