6 New Approaches to Diagnosing Alzheimer's

Since the definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer’s is still by autopsy, a vital step toward stopping Alzheimer’s is to develop new tests that can diagnose AD while people are alive. Following are some newer methods for detection that scientists hope will help move diagnosis forward.

Elderly couple on walkway.
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Change in gait

Studies have provided strong evidence that when a person’s natural walk gets slower or less controlled, cognitive function could also be suffering. Gait change doesn’t provide enough evidence for a diagnosis, but it can help point the way to other targeted testing.

Peanut butter and shelled peanuts.
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Peanut butter smell test

While disputed by some authorities, some studies that have confirmed early stage Alzheimer’s by the volunteers’ inability to smell peanut butter a short distance from their nose. The problem is particularly evident with the left nostril.

Eye model.
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Eye exam

Researchers have found that the amount of beta amyloid protein in the brain and the eye are similar. Since a significant amount of beta amyloid proteins in the brain is considered a sign of AD, an eye exam could potentially detect Alzheimer’s in an early stage.

Vial of spinal fluid.
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Spinal fluid

Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s can be found in the spinal fluid of 90 percent of people with early signs of Alzheimer’s. This is a test that is unlikely to be widely used because testing everyone for the marker would be costly, but it may be an option for people at high risk.

Drawing blood for blood test.
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Blood test

The latest news on blood tests for AD comes from researchers in Copenhagen who have now identified a new biomarker which will help predict the onset of dementia. They conducted one successful large scale study and will continue with more research.

Skin test.
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Skin test

The newest option is a skin test that could predict the onset of neurodegenerative diseases before symptoms appear. Tissues from the brain and skin have the same origin, so researchers have been interested in small studies that showed evidence of the diseases in skin samples.

Woman talking to worried senior woman.
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The takeaway

While a change in gait detected by a doctor would be a clue to look more deeply, the rest of these tests will need further study before they become widely accepted. Still, it’s possible that that before long we may be routinely tested to determine our future cognitive status.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at mindingourelders.com.