How to Detect Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
March 16, 2023
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Every 3.2 seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This is a debilitating form of dementia that deteriorates cognitive skills and memory. 

Unfortunately, cognitive health tests are usually conducted once symptoms have begun. Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t have early detection screenings like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers have. Instead, doctors use a series of tests to assess: 

  • Attention 
  • Memory
  • Logic/reasoning
  • Auditory/visual processing
  • Information processing speed 
  • Judgment abilities
  • Behavioral changes 
  • Possible causes of impairment

This can be a setback in the care of an Alzheimer’s patients as the earlier a disease is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin, leading to better outcomes.

But good news may be on the horizon. Researchers at University of Washington developed a laboratory test, called soluble oligomer binding assay (or SOBA), to measure blood levels of amyloid beta oligomers. The formation of this peptide is considered an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease and is thought to trigger and progress the disease, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Researchers evaluated 379 blood samples from 310 study participants who had previously made their blood samples and medical records available to Alzheimer’s researchers. At the time of the blood samples, participants had no signs of cognitive decline. Results found that this test is 99 percent sensitive and specific enough to detect amyloid beta oligomers in people within a wide spectrum of cognitive issues including those with:

  • A high risk for cognitive impairment
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s disease
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease

The test also can differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from other amyloid beta related conditions like Parkinson’s disease. Researchers believe they may be able to adapt the test for use in Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

“Blood tests such as this one can make a tremendous difference in the management of Alzheimer’s and related conditions,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Other important advances in early-stage diagnosis of Alzheimer’s include a scanning technique.”  

What is the Amyloid Beta? 

Amyloid beta (also known as beta-amyloid) is a protein that plays an essential role in the growth and repair of nerves. A healthy brain can break down the protein and eliminate it. 

As we age, these proteins can corrupt, becoming toxic and accumulating. Excess amounts of amyloid beta proteins clump together forming a plaque between nerve cells that destroys them. This plaque leads to cognitive health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

If you have a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s, you have a greater risk of developing it. However, lifestyle behaviors also contribute. You can help lower your risk for Alzheimer’s by:

  • Eating a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels 
  • Engaging in moderately intense aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes per week 

“I believe one of the best ways to maintain cognitive health is to form a strong relationship with a primary care physician who help you live a brain-healthy lifestyle, stay on top of early warning signs and refer you to specialists as needed,” says Kaminetsky.

Looking for a primary care physician? Consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. An MDVIP-affiliated doctor can customize a wellness plan for you that can focus on living a brain-healthy lifestyle. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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