Why early detection matters
With grim prognoses and very limited treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, early detection isn’t particularly advantageous. (These 36 habits reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.) But that may be changing—fast. One of the hottest areas of Alzheimer’s research involves treating people in the very earliest stages of the disease with drugs that decrease the production of amyloid beta (proteins that bunch together to form damaging plaques in the brain). Experts believe that people begin to develop amyloid plaques in their brains at least 10 years before they develop any obvious symptoms of dementia. This is how memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients could soon be reversed.
Reisa Sperling, MD, director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is leading a new clinical trial, called the A4 study, which will evaluate patients with evidence of Alzheimer’s damage in the brain but who still have normal thinking and memory function. The trial will randomly assign groups to receive medication, and researchers will determine over three years whether the drugs affected the patients’ memory or levels of amyloid. “When a person already has a lot of memory trouble, they already have significant neuron loss,” says Dr. Sperling. “We need to find and treat people much earlier.” Here’s what to watch for. Don’t fall for these three prominent Alzheimer’s myths.
Worrying about your memory
A number of studies presented at an Alzheimer’s Association conference last year found that people who were concerned about their own memory and thinking were in fact more likely to have signs of Alzheimer’s plaques in their brain, and develop dementia symptoms later. (These are the seven stages of Alzheimer’s caregivers should recognize.) “People should trust what they observe about themselves,” Rebecca Amariglio, PhD, a Harvard neuropsychologist, told USA Today. It’s common with a number of health conditions—such as arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease—for people to feel something isn’t right before others observe it, Frank Jessen, a researcher at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, told the New York Times.