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alzheimer’s: would you want to know?

New diagnostic tests will soon be available to anyone who wants to know if their brains have tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The tests include brain scans and spinal-fluid analysis that can detect signs of the distinctive plaques and tangles that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia. There is evidence this damage starts long before people experience memory loss.

So, the current thinking goes, the best time to try to change the disease course is before memory problems surface, when brain cells can still be repaired. And since researchers are still struggling to find drugs that will significantly alter or halt the course of Alzheimer’s, the diagnostic advances raise a difficult question:

Should patients request, or doctors offer, early testing for a disease that remains largely untreatable? Would you want to know?

Click here to view a brief simulation of how Alzheimer’s disease develops in the human brain. For additional information, got to image: Brain maps, done with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), show the dynamic wave of grey-matter loss that occurs as patients progress from mild to severe Alzheimer’s disease; image released by UCLA.


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