Monday, August 9, 2010

Early Screening for Alzheimer's Under Review

In an earlier post, we discussed signs that someone may be experiencing the early stages of dementia. The earlier dementia is detected, the more opportunities to take steps to improve the patient's (and the caregiver's) quality of life going forward. Dementia is the umbrella term for those with memory impairment, whereas Alzheimer's is the leading type of dementia.

Today's Boston Globe features one such family of caregivers as the narrative around the important subject of screenings. There remains much debate about how best to screen for Alzheimer's and what, if anything, can be done to prevent it. Just what organically signals Alzheimer's or another type of dementia remains a major focus for researchers.

Scientists think Alzheimer’s begins to damage the brain years before memory lapses and other symptoms appear, and they are developing screening tests to detect victims in these silent early stages. A reliable test would not only give people like Bernice an answer, but might enable physicians to prevent or delay the dementia with drugs or other therapies — much the same way patients with high cholesterol readings are treated with statins to stave off heart disease.

The agony for families like the Osbornes is that researchers say these technologies are years away from being ready for routine use, and there is not yet any medication that could alter the course of the disease.

The good news is that there's a great deal of research being devoted to Alzheimer's, which currently affects 5 million Americans. That number is expected to triple in the next 40 years as the population's primary demographic - baby boomers - continue to age. This will put increasing pressure on facilities to come up with better screenings for the disease as well as more preemptive steps we can take while we're in good health to help stave off dementia.

Article: Do I Have It? Tests for Alzheimer's are in the works, but their routine use is still far off.

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