Blood Test Can Spot Alzheimer's Years Early

'Game changer' raises ethical dilemmas

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 10, 2014 2:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – A simple blood test can spot Alzheimer's disease years before symptoms develop, researchers say—though it's a breakthrough some may choose to ignore. A Georgetown University team says its "highly sensitive and specific test" can identify people in their 70s who are likely to develop Alzheimer's in the next two to three years, reports the BBC. They tested levels of 10 fats in the blood to get results they say are 90% accurate. It's already possible to spot the disease early with MRI scans or spinal taps, but the researchers say a quick and easy test could be a "game changer" that will help efforts to find ways to slow down or stop the disease.

If larger-scale tests confirm the breakthrough, many seniors will have to ask themselves whether they are prepared to face what the lead researcher calls test results that "could be life-altering," NPR finds. No cure for Alzheimer's exists, and while knowing they will soon develop the disease would help people plan ahead for their needs, they would face major questions of stigma and identity, medical ethicist notes. "How will other people interact with you if they learn that you have this information?" he says. "And how will you think about your own brain and your sort of sense of self?"

The director of an Alzheimer's assisted-living facility in Washington puts her hand on the arm of a resident.
The director of an Alzheimer's assisted-living facility in Washington puts her hand on the arm of a resident.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
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People must be given a choice about whether they would want to know, and fully understand the implications. - Dr. Doug Brown,
Alzheimer's Society

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