Three Ways to Predict Alzheimer’s Years Before Symptoms Begin

Evelyn believes that her father, Bill, is beginning to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s. His memory loss started out mild, but is beginning to disrupt his daily life. He gets confused often, and loses concept of place and time. At the same time, though, he can engage in a completely normal conversation, and clearly remembers the names of his grandchildren when they call, and remembers to ask them about their extracurricular activities. Evelyn sometimes wonders if it is Alzheimer’s her father may have, or maybe he is stressed, not getting enough sleep, or is just getting older. The doctor said that Evelyn’s dad likely has Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which may or may not progress into Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in the future.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that by 2050, 16 million people will have Alzheimer’s, and it is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. Alzheimer’s disease has no cure. But, as with most diseases, early detection is key so families have more time to better deal with the legal, financial, and caregiving aspects that accompany a diagnosis. This is why early detection is currently the top priority for scientists involved with Alzheimer’s research. However, doctors want to be certain that a patient truly has or will develop Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia before making a diagnosis.

Imagine if doctors could determine, many years in advance with nearly 85% certainty, who is likely to develop dementia and who is not. Thanks to three studies that are in progress, there are methods to detect Alzheimer’s early that are that effective.

Artificial Intelligence to Predict Alzheimer’s

Artificial intelligence research conducted at McGill University may have the predictive power researchers are looking for, and could soon be available to clinicians everywhere.

A new study from McGill University shows that artificial intelligence may make it easier to predict whether someone with mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer’s, and is able to do so two years before the onset of dementia symptoms with 84% accuracy. Researchers used an algorithm that included data such as memory test results, glucose metabolism in the brain, PET scans, cerebrospinal fluid and MRIs as a basis for their predictions. Though it will need to undergo more clinical trial testing, researchers hope that this Alzheimer’s algorithm will offer patients more time to plan for their future, and more time to start disease-delaying drugs.

Similarly, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have also been successful in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms begin to interfere with everyday living, initial testing shows. The Case Western computer program integrates a range of Alzheimer’s disease indicators, including mild cognitive impairment.

“Many papers compare the healthy to those with the disease, but there’s a continuum,” said Anant Madabhushi, professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve. “We deliberately included mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s, but not always.” As with the McGill research, researchers continue to validate and fine-tune the approach with data from multiple sites.

Alzheimer’s Blood Test

An experimental blood test has been also shown to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers say that using the test, they were able to identify Alzheimer’s patients with up to 86% specificity. The test also differentiated Alzheimer’s from dementia with Lewy bodies, a related condition, with 90% sensitivity and specificity.

For the study, the researchers enlisted the help of 347 participants with neurodegenerative diseases, plus 202 healthy people serving as a comparison group. Participants ranged in age from 23 to 90. The researchers took blood samples from all the volunteers and analyzed the samples with infrared spectroscopy.

Using sensor-based technology, the scientists examined frequencies that revealed chemical bonds in the blood, indicating whether the blood contains traces of a neurodegenerative disease. Along with detecting dementia early, this approach has the potential to differentiate between different types of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Video Game

British researchers are hoping a new video game will produce valuable data to help diagnose the earliest signs of dementia. According to the researchers, getting lost is one of the first signs of the disorder, so researchers are hoping the game can provide a baseline for how people navigate and eventually help doctors identify who’s most at risk.

Each time a person with dementia plays the game, Sea Hero Quest, it tracks their navigational skills and sends the data to scientists. According to creators, playing the game for just two minutes generates as much data as researchers would collect over five hours in a lab. Three million players have already downloaded the game. Hopefully, the game will provide some useful data about diagnosing dementia early.

Benefits of Early Diagnosis

Hopefully, the Artificial Intelligence and the blood test become viable ways to accurately test for Alzheimer’s in the future, and the video game provides helpful data for research. Once people with Alzheimer’s find out that they have the disease, they can take advantage of the benefits to early diagnosis, even though no treatment or cure currently exists. For instance, those who learn that they are likely to have Alzheimer’s could enroll in clinical trials testing possible new treatments. Another potential benefit could be that it will help those with Alzheimer’s work with their family, caregivers, and an experienced elder law attorney, such as myself, to plan for their future and their loved ones.

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is probably the worst health and social care challenge of our generation, and a diagnosis of the disease is life-changing. When it comes to legal planning for long-term care, generally the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better the result. But it is important to know that it’s never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Medicaid planning can even be started by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, and even if your loved one is already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care services.

Medicaid Asset Protection

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia? Persons with dementia and their families have unique financial and legal issues. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial, legal, and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the your hard-earned assets while maintaining your comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veteran’s Aid and Attendance. As always, please feel free to call us for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Planning: 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.


  1. George Beddoe says

    I enjoyed this article, but when I tried to download SeaHeroQuest from the internet, my virus protections insisted it was a dangerous virus. Is there a way to get the program without internet download?

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