New Study Shows Need For Quick Alzheimer Test

Alzheimer's Association
Tuesday, 24 February 2004

A new study in the journal Neurology highlights ongoing efforts to find a quick, easy-to-administer test for Alzheimer's disease, and the need for added physician emphasis on early detection and diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The researchers found that individuals with Alzheimer's disease were 20 times more likely than those with no cognitive impairment to be able to name fewer than 15 animals in one minute. The study also suggested that the ability to name objects beginning with the letter "F" could be useful in distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from vascular dementia. Individuals who could name fewer than four objects beginning with "F" in one minute were significantly more likely to have vascular dementia. The study included participants free of impairment, those diagnosed with either Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia, and another group with memory difficulties but without dementia.

"A single, quick diagnostic test for dementia would encourage doctors to more regularly check on the cognitive health of their patients to keep watch for changes that may indicate Alzheimer's disease, especially in older patients and those who express concerns about their memory" said William Thies, Ph.D. vice president, Medical & Scientific Affairs at the Alzheimer's Association. "While this new research is interesting, the same detailed evaluation that has been recommended for decades is still what is recommended now."

The diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made by reviewing a detailed medical history on the person and the results of several tests, including a complete physical and neurological examination, a psychiatric assessment and laboratory tests. The Alzheimer's Association can refer people to physicians and/or diagnostic centers in their area.

Value of a Quick Screening Test

Alzheimer's can be diagnosed with 90 percent accuracy, but doctors often perceive it as a complex and time consuming process. A quick, easy-to-administer screening test would encourage use in the primary care environment where there are currently many recognized barriers to successful diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

"A quick, easy-to-administer screening test would facilitate initial screening by family doctors at the primary care level. Referral to specialists and additional testing could then be done in a more timely and efficient fashion," Thies said.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is important for reasons related to improving care and treatment and empowering people to participate fully in their lives.

  • Individuals and families want a specific diagnosis

    Over and over again, people tell the Alzheimer's Association that they want to know what it is that is causing the new and unexpected behaviors in themselves or their loved ones. They want to know what they can do, if anything, to slow the progression of the changes that are taking place or prevent them from occurring in the first place.
  • Care and Treatment

    Early diagnosis enables use of available treatments as early in the disease process as possible. Referral to community resources, such as the Alzheimer's Association, for appropriate help can come earlier. This can alleviate unnecessary caregiver stress. It also makes possible participation in clinical trials for new and improved treatments, for those who want to, because eligibility usually requires a confirmed diagnosis.
  • Self-determination

    Early diagnosis enables people with Alzheimer's to participate in life planning (and death planning) before the disease takes away their ability to make competent decisions. Delays in the detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's, and in the delivery of the diagnosis to individuals and family members, run the risk of robbing people of the opportunity to participate in some of the most important decisions of their lives.

Americans Asked to "Maintain Your Brain"

The Alzheimer's Association urges Baby Boomers and all Americans to "Maintain Your Brain." There is increasing evidence that changes in lifestyle and health habits such as those that help the heart exercising, eating properly, and controlling blood sugar levels, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure may also benefit the brain.

"When we ask Americans to 'Maintain Your Brain,' we're also asking them to learn what we know about Alzheimer's disease, understand the great progress made by the medical research community, and join us in advocating for a renewed commitment to research and improved care for those with Alzheimer's disease," Thies added.

For more information, or to contact Alzheimer's Association, see their website at: www.alz.org

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