by Matilda Charles
Would you want to know years in advance that you have Alzheimer's disease in your future?
It's a huge question, and getting an answer could soon become a real possibility.
Scientists are now developing ways to pre-diagnose Alzheimer's, as much as 10 years in advance, and they're setting out guidelines on just how it can be done. Following these guidelines, they say, doctors will be able not only to diagnose, but also estimate what stage the patient currently is in.
Scientists predict that the minute these guidelines go into effect, the number of diagnoses of Alzheimer's could increase two to three times.
One of the tests in the guidelines is a PET scan of the brain, where amyloid plaques, if they are there, will show up. The other is a test of spinal-fluid proteins. These two tests, along with the standard cognitive tests, are a big step from the current method of diagnosing Alzheimer's: autopsy after death.
The drug manufacturers, of course, are all for it. The instant there's a pre-Alzheimer's diagnosis, they stand to make money -- there are a number of drugs in production they'd like to try.
The Food and Drug Administration is being cautious about those drugs, however. It wants proof that the drugs work, which will be difficult to determine quickly, as Alzheimer's moves slowly over years.
There's still hope, of course, of stopping any pre-Alzheimer's in its tracks. Research extracted from the long-term Framingham Heart Study (since 1948) indicates that exercise can go a long way to cutting the risk of Alzheimer's. Another recent study revealed that a diet with adequate vitamin D can cut the risk of Alzheimer's. (Researchers aren't sure, however, if vitamin D supplements will work.)
For Alzheimer's information, go online to the Alzheimer's Association at www.alz.org or call its help line at 1-800-272-3900.
Matilda Charles regrets that she cannot personally answer reader questions, but will incorporate them into her column whenever possible. Write to her in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2010 King Features Synd., Inc.