Low-tech tests still more apt to predict Alzheimer s

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Biomarkers detectable in spinal fluid and blood, magnetic resonance imaging, and tests of cognition (memory) are all means of assessing whether a person will develop Alzheimer s disease. But for now, says a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the latter test requiring nothing more technical than a paper-based test and a pen is the most accurate means of predicting the disease.

The study examined a total of 507 people: 116 with mild cognitive impairment who developed Alzheimer s disease in two years, 204 with the same level of cognitive impairment who did not develop the disease, and 197 who were cognitively healthy. After comparing brain scans, biomarker tests, and tests of cognitive ability that had been administered to all participants, the researchers found that a change in a person s scores on two particular tests that measure functional ability revealed a larger rate of decline than any of the other tests. In effect, these paper-based tests were better predictors of who would develop Alzheimer s.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom agrees that such tests are important, especially before moving to the more invasive examinations. And, while ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross doesn t disagree, he points out that a brain scan for such patients is still very much the standard of care. When you have someone with mild cognitive impairment, he says, it s very difficult to convince them that an MRI isn t necessary. And there are still illnesses that can mimic Alzheimer s and must be ruled out; an MRI is necessary in those cases.