Critter Corner: Current Tests for Alzheimer’s Disease

Dear Magic,

After spending 30 minutes hunting for her car the other day in a parking lot and leaving the oven on in another instance, my mom thinks it’s time to ask her doctor for an Alzheimer’s test. I remember when my dad got tested a few years ago and he answered questions for his test. What types of Alzheimer’s tests do they have now?

Thanks!

Tess Foralz

Dear Tess,

An accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia is an important first step to ensure that your loved ones have appropriate treatment, care, family education and plans for the future.

To diagnose Alzheimer’s dementia, doctors evaluate your signs and symptoms and conduct several tests to assess memory impairment and other thinking skills, judge functional abilities, and identify behavior changes. They also perform a series of tests to rule out other possible causes of impairment.

An Amyloid Brain PET Scan Can Be Used for Diagnosis

Maybe you’re thinking about having an FDA-approved amyloid brain Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan. These tests involve the injection of a radioactive dye attached to a molecule that sticks to amyloid plaques in the brain. The radioactivity is then measured by special imaging technology, similar to a CT scan. These PET scans cost around $5,000 and are not covered by insurance, so you would have to pay out of pocket unless you are part of a clinical study where they are offered for free.

Spinal Fluid Tests are Available Now — and Paid for by Insurance

A spinal fluid test is available that is quite good at being able to distinguish Alzheimer’s from other brain diseases affecting thinking and memory. To obtain the spinal fluid, you need to undergo a spinal tap. Although it may sound frightening, it is known to be a perfectly safe test. You simply sit or lie down on your side with your back to the doctor and curl into a little ball by bringing your shoulders down and your knees up. The doctor finds the right spot, cleans the area well, gives you some numbing medicine, inserts a thin needle, and takes out a small amount of spinal fluid, which is sent to a lab for analysis.

Blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease are being developed

Recently, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis measured the levels of beta-amyloid in the blood of 158 mostly normal people (10 had cognitive impairment) using a blood test. The findings came back very similar to those of brain PET scans performed within 18 months of the blood draw. The new blood test has been found to be extremely sensitive at detecting Alzheimer’s disease — resulting in few false negatives. However, it is still being evaluated and is not currently available for clinical use.

Researchers are working on new diagnostic tools that may enable doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s dementia earlier in the course of the disease, when symptoms are very mild or before symptoms even appear. We will keep you up to date as new ways of testing Alzheimer’s becomes available.

Hop this is helpful,

Magic

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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