A new gene test which analyses whether a person is likely to have Alzheimer’s Disease could be made available to people who develop mild memory problems in middle age.
By detecting the disease early on doctors would be able to give the patient brain exercises, and drugs should they become available, to slow the onset of the condition.
A leading British expert on the disease has said the new test could be used for everyone on reaching the age of 60, when there is usually time to take preventative action.
Currently there are no drugs to fight the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but these could become available soon. However, research at King’s College London funded by the Alzheimer’s Society suggests that brain exercises can help to improve cognitive function in older people.
Catching the disease early is crucial to treatments working, however – but at this time, it can be difficult for doctors to know whether a patient has the condition or is simply suffering from the symptoms of old age – forgetfulness, confusion and cognitive decline. There are a couple of reliable ways to test if a patient has Alzheimer’s at this time but both are expensive and complex. The first, costing around £700, is a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, which involves draining a little of the patient’s fluid from their spine to check for changes in the levels of tau and beta-amyloid, two proteins that form abnormal brain deposits which are strongly linked to the disease. The second is a brain scan, which costs around £1,500.
The new test was created by Oxford-based biotechnology company Cytox and will cost just a few hundred pounds when it is released. It works by looking at small samples of DNA for 130,000 genetic variants that are thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s, building up a risk profile for each patient. The test will be simple and straightforward enough to be carried out at GP surgeries. The results are over 80 per cent accurate at predicting abnormal levels of beta-amyloid.
Cytox intend to offer the test initially to drug companies in order to find more high-risk patients suitable for the tests. With double the number of clinical trials happening for Alzheimer’s drugs since 2013, charities are struggling to find enough volunteers to take part. Cytox is also hoping that it will win the approval of the NHS to use the test on patients over the next decade.
Once effective drugs are on the market, the benefit of detecting the disease early will be greatest.
Alzheimer’s in the UK
It is thought that at least 850,000 people in Britain are suffering from Alzheimer’s, the form of dementia where toxic proteins build up in the brain. According to the World Alzheimer Report 2015, someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. Although we tend to associate losing mental capacity with old age, dementia affects people of all ages including a surprising number of younger people.
Although brain exercises can slow the onset of the disease, there are currently no helpful drugs on the market. Should you develop Alzheimer’s, you will experience cognitive decline – it is only a question of to what degree and when.
Brain injury due to an accident and stroke can also affect you at any point during your lifetime. In these difficult circumstances, you may be surprised to learn that the person you thought could make decisions for you regarding your health, welfare, property and finances, cannot actually assist at all. Putting in place a Lasting Power of Attorney ensures that if for any reason you should lose mental capacity, a person you trust can manage your affairs for you.
Get in touch with our later life planning team now.