Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects over half a million Canadians. That number is expected to reach almost a million by the year 2031.
The risk of Alzheimer’s increases considerably after the age of 65. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time. This is especially true without sufficient treatment and management.
Can Alzheimer’s be managed if caught early enough?
An effective treatment plan can be designed and implemented to help slow the onset and progression of the disease if it is detected early enough.
The problem here is that there is not just one test that can be administered to get an absolute diagnosis.
There are many factors that may indicate an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, but none are completely definitive.
The presence of dementia is a little easier to identify, but even then it is challenging to pin it down to a definite Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
New approaches and developments in Alzheimer’s research have led to detection methods that may be able to recognize risk factors for the disease far in advance.
Diagnosis and Detection Methods for Alzheimer’s
There are several strategies that can be employed to detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.
These methods typically include:
- Cognitive assessments
- Evaluations by a health professional
- Brain scan
- Blood test
Initial cognitive assessment tools are generally used to identify anyone that may need to undergo more intense evaluation.
There is no one specific tool or test that determines cognitive impairment. Practitioners often use a combination of:
- Psychometric evaluation
- General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG Tool)
- Mini-Cog Screening
- Memory Impairment Screening
- Informant tools for family and friends
Cognitive assessments are usually done for people with memory issues, depression, chronic health issues, or other cognitive complaints.
Another step towards detecting Alzheimer’s is an evaluation by your doctor or a health care professional or neurologist.
Aside from reviewing your medical history for clues, a doctor will examine things like:
- Impaired memory
- Decreased cognitive function
- Personality of behavioral changes
- Changes in routines affected by cognitive decline
- Underlying causes of symptoms
If there is enough evidence from initial evaluations to suggest the presence of Alzheimer’s or dementia, then a brain scan may be the next step.
Either a CT scan or and MRI is typically used to abnormalities in the brain that may be associated with cognitive impairment.
Unfortunately, neither of these scans can display the microscopic alterations in the brain that are brought on by Alzheimer’s.
CT scans and MRIs can, however, can reveal changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s like loss of brain mass or atrophy of the hippocampus.
A recent development in Alzheimer’s testing involves a new blood test. This test focuses on a particular protein found in the blood called Neurofilament Light Chain (NfL).
This blood test is reported to potentially detect the risk of Alzheimer’s up to 16 years in advance, before symptoms even manifest.
However, this test is also not a 100% indicator. Increased levels of NfL in the blood have been associated with a variety of neurological disorders.
NfL protein gets released when axons in the brain’s white matter begin to deteriorate. Chronic inflammation and head injuries can also increase the presence of NfL in the blood.
Research indicates a strong link between NfL levels and Alzheimer’s, but further studies are needed.
Reducing the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Scientists still don’t know for sure exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, but research has shown that a healthy lifestyle is a big step towards prevention.
Some lifestyle practices that can help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, may be:
- Nutritious Diet
- Regular Exercise
- Quality Sleep
- Social activity
- Brain stimulation
- Reduced stress