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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Alzheimer's Disease

disease is a degenerative disease that affects the brain & causes dementia. Alzheimer’s mostly appears in people 65+, but sometimes it can develop earlier. Memory loss is the most common sign & might begin as forgetfulness & worsen over time until it interferes with everyday life. Eventually, routine tasks like household chores, identifying people, places, objects, dressing, eating & personal care may be challenging.

People with Alzheimer’s usually survive for 8 -10 years after the start of symptoms. Still, the course of the disease can be 1 - 25 yrs. Alzheimer’s can be classified as early-onset (in the person’s 30s -60s) or late-onset (>mid-60s). Some cases of Alzheimer’s are passed down in families & are called familial Alzheimer’s (FAD) & is autosomal dominant. 3 genes (“APP,” “PSEN1,” & “PSEN2”) have been linked to FAD. When there is a mutation in any of the 3 genes, then large quantities of toxic protein fragments (called amyloid beta peptides) are made in the brain. The fragments can build up & form clumps called amyloid plaques. These plaques may cause nerve cell death & progressive symptoms of the disease.

Late-onset Alzheimer’s does not have a clear-cut familial pattern. This type of Alzheimer’s is likely caused by genetic & environmental factors. Specific mutations in the “APOE” gene are thought to increase a person’s risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s.

This year, researchers have reported that new blood tests for a protein called tau can help predict changes in the brain 20 years before dementia symptoms occur. The test looks for abnormal versions of the protein, particularly p-tau217. The blood levels of p-tau217 are linked to the build-up of amyloid in the brain. The more traditional testing methods are PET scans & spinal fluid tests for amyloid & tau proteins. These methods are expensive, invasive & might not be covered by medical aid. The new blood tests are still in clinical trials & are not readily available yet. Since these tests act as a predictor for disease, genetic or psychological counselling may be required prior to ensure that they understand the implications and are mentally prepared for the results.

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