Since 1994, September has been observed as World Alzheimer’s Month and September 21 as World Alzheimer’s Day. The theme for this year is ‘Remember Me’. The day encourages people all around the world to learn to spot the signs of dementia and remember their loved ones who are living with this memory disorder. Activities during the month will include educational seminars, workshops and social events for people with dementia and their caregivers.
The sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of disorders that impairs mental functioning. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia and in every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
Many medical problems have symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer’s. In addition to a physical exam, neuropsychological tests, and CT, MRI and PET scans, lab tests are performed to rule out other possible causes of a person’s symptoms. Blood tests that may be done include complete blood count (CBC), liver function and folate tests, tests to measure Vitamin B12 concentration, electrolyte and blood glucose levels, and thyroid function tests.
New Test offers Hope
Research in the field is progressing and bearing fruit. This World Alzheimer’s Month is the best time to talk about a new blood test that could help contribute to a dementia diagnosis. The Daily Mail reported earlier this month on this test developed by a team of researchers from King’s College London in the U.K., the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Duke University in the US. The test calculates a patient’s ‘biological age’ compared to their actual age, and the researchers say that this information could be used to predict if they are at risk of dementia years in advance.
The scientists evaluated thousands of blood, brain and muscle samples from patients over 20 years, and calculated the ‘optimum’ RNA make-up, or ‘signature’, for a 65-year-old. An ‘aging score’ based on these 150 markers was assigned with a high score indicating healthy aging and a low score indicating that the person was biologically older than they were in years. It was found that:
- Those with higher scores at the age of 70 had better mental ability and kidney function when they reached 82.
- Those with lower scores were more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease (more of these patients had died).
The results were shown to be unrelated to a person’s lifestyle, meaning that common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes did not affect the score.
The researchers conclude that how people age biologically impacts their wider health and risk for conditions like Alzheimer’s.
There are many organizations and research centers in the U.S. dedicated to raising funds for research on this form of dementia and to meet the ambitious role set by the Department of Health and Human Services to cure Alzheimer’s by 2025. In addition to organizations that raise money to fund research in the laboratories where the studies are conducted, many of these centers focus on understanding specific aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, while others have a more comprehensive approach.