If Alzheimer's disease runs in your family, would you want to know if you're at risk? A new test could tell you the answer and there is a good reason for you to know.
Alzheimers is the most common cause of dementia in older Americans, already affecting about 4 and a half million people in this country. Researchers at New York University have found a way to find early signs that Alzheimer's is developing years before a person shows any sign of the disease.
When Beatrice Rosenberg's mother was diagnosed with dementia, she worried she would suffer the same fate. "I was concerned. I felt I was losing my memory. I'd forget names," says Rosenberg.
She heard about a new technique that measures brain volume changes by using MRI scans over a period of years.
"Its accuracy is approximately 90%. We think with future resolutions, scans, we can improve that method," says Henry Rusinek, Ph.D., a radiologist at New York University School of Medicine.
Rusinek studied 45 healthy people over several years. Using MRI scans and intricate computer software, researchers measured an area of the brain that contains two key regions associated with learning and memory, the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex.
"When these structures are smaller, they have some predictive value as to who's going to develop memory loss and ultimately Alzheimer's disease," says Mony DeLeon, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at New York University School of Medicine.
Researchers find out if those critical parts of the brain are shrinking by comparing scans.
"So the brain is changing even when the patient remains normal, and then years later demonstrates the clinical change. So, this is a landmark observation," says DeLeon.
For Rosenberg, the results have been positive. "So far, so good. Had they told me anything was seriously wrong, I'm fully prepared to make any necessary adjustments in my life, any decisions I feel I would have to make," says Rosenberg.
Dr. Rusinek says this new technique appears to have an accuracy rate of 90%. But don't look for this test in Lubbock. Although the MRI is used at Texas Tech to look for changes in the brain of Alzheimers patients, it's not used here in healthy people to see if they might develop the disease later.