Can a New Device Detect Alzheimer’s Years Before Symptoms Develop?

Many people don’t realize that Alzheimer’s actually begins 15-20 years before symptoms become evident, but this has been proven to be the case. Now, a research team has developed a device and strategy that may be able to detect Alzheimer’s disease in the blood up to 17 years before any outward symptoms start to show.

Using an immuno-infrared sensor developed in Germany, a research team has been able to identify Alzheimer’s disease in the blood with a sensor that detects the protein biomarker amyloid-beta misfolding. As the condition progresses, this misfolding results in distinctive deposits in the brain, known as plaques. Detecting the plaques early can help in the detection of Alzheimer’s. Misfolded proteins also play a central role in many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and this device may be helpful in detecting those neurodegenerative diseases, as well.

“Our goal is to determine the risk of later developing Alzheimer’s dementia with a simple blood test even before the toxic plaques can form in the brain so that therapy can start in time,” says Professor Klaus Gerwert, founding director of the Center for Protein Diagnostics (PRODI) at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, where the device was developed. “We want to use the misfolding test to establish a screening method for older people and determine their risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia. The vision of our newly founded start-up betaSENSE is that the disease can be stopped in a symptom-free state before irreversible damage occurs.”

How Alzheimer’s Device Was Discovered

The team led by Klaus Gerwert and Hermann Brenner wanted to know whether early signs of Alzheimer’s disease could be found in the blood samples of those who later developed Alzheimer’s. Researchers analyzed frozen blood plasma from participants in an earlier study called the ESTHER study, conducted in Saarland, Germany, for potential Alzheimer’s biomarkers. Here’s how the study was conducted:

  • For the study, 68 participants who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during the 17-year follow-up period were selected and compared with 240 control subjects without such a diagnosis.
  • The blood samples were taken between 2000 and 2002 and then frozen. At that time, the subjects were between 50 and 75 years old and had not yet been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The immuno-infrared sensor was able to identify the 68 test subjects who later developed Alzheimer’s disease with a high degree of accuracy.
  • The Bochum researchers hope that early diagnosis based on amyloid-beta misfolding could help Alzheimer’s patients begin treatments early.

While the sensor is still in the development phase, the invention has already been patented worldwide. BetaSENSE aims to bring the immuno-infrared sensor to market and obtain approval as a diagnostic device to be used in clinical laboratories.

Why Early Detection Is Important

If scientists could reliably identify signs that someone is likely to get Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they could begin treatment earlier, possibly warding off the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms years down the road. If projected to develop Alzheimer’s in the future, someone who has no obvious memory problems now might be able to remain symptom-free if they take a drug that targets beta-amyloid buildup, such as the FDA approved-drug Aduhelm. Of course, as always, additional studies are needed.

The following are the potential benefits of early detection:

  • Detecting Alzheimer’s early so you know what to expect: Is it Alzheimer’s? Is it a different type of dementia? Or is it something completely different? Some treatable conditions can produce symptoms similar to dementia. These conditions include vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, sleep disorders, alcohol abuse, and depression. Similarly, other possible causes of confusion include poor sight, poor hearing, and medication interactions. Because of this, it’s important to arrange for a full medical assessment if you notice any changes in abilities or behaviors. Early detection using a device such as the sensor described above may also prove to be very helpful in the future.
  • You can use treatments more effectively: Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is typically most effective when started early in the disease process. This includes medications as well as some alternative therapies.
  • You can help advance research: You can participate in clinical trials and other research to help improve diagnosis and enhance care.
  • You can focus on what’s important: An early diagnosis allows you to live life to its fullest by setting your priorities based on what’s most important to you, such as traveling, pursuing new hobbies and goals, spending time with loved ones, or deciding when to retire.
  • You can take advantage of resources: Both you and your family can benefit from resources, support, and education programs that can help you learn how to live well with dementia.
  • Your family will be better able to support you: If your family can understand the disease you’re facing and the challenges that come with its progression, they may be better able to support you and get the help that’s needed.
  • You can make empowering choices: An early diagnosis allows you to make informed decisions about legal, financial, and care matters and make your wishes known to your family and friends.
  • You are in a better position to be an advocate for yourself and others: You can join other people who are making their voices heard, raising awareness about the disease and the need for increased funding for research.
  • You can become more actively involved in your personal decisions, including health care: Earlier in the disease process, you’re able to participate more actively in your own health care decisions and future plans.

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia

A diagnosis of dementia is life-changing for both diagnosed individuals and those close to them. Generally, the earlier someone with dementia plans for long-term care needs, the better. But it is never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Medicaid Planning, Lifecare Planning, and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Medicaid Planning can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care.

Medicaid Asset Protection

People with Alzheimer’s live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If you are ever faced with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any other type of cognitive impairment, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Care Attorneys: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Care Attorneys: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Care Attorneys: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Care Attorneys: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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