The New York Times ran an article on August 10, 2010, reporting that a study had been completed showing that a spinal fluid test can predict whether or not a patient has Alzheimer’s. It is now well known that a person can have this dreaded disease for ten or more years before symptoms appear. Once the disease has become evident, it may be too late for drugs to ameliorate the effects of the disease. From an estate planning point of view, an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s allows for planning options that will not be possible later on.
There are two tests now that can identify the tell tale proteins that form plaques in the brain, which are amyloid beta and tau. A PET scan exists that can show the proteins in the brain, but this test is not commercially available now. The spinal fluid test is available now, but requires a spinal tap that can be painful.
Doctors and researchers are pleased to have these two tests in development. The results of the study were published in Archives of Neurology. Tests such as these can provide a discreet diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, which is often used as a catch all name to describe many different forms of memory loss. Memory loss, or dementia, is after all a symptom, not a disease in itself. It can be caused by many things, such as stress, lack of circulation to the brain, malnutrition, and brain damage, none of which has the same effect on life expectancy and long term care needs as does Alzheimer’s.