New tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease are emerging, offering hope for new treatments and therapies.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the memory disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and more than 5 million people are currently living with the disease. In fact, for seniors, a third of all deaths stem from either Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Although there is no cure in sight, for now, every effort is being made to find a way to diagnose and treat this growing threat.

According to The Wall Street Journal, there is support for a new approach to how Alzheimer’s is identified in the population, and it could lead to dramatically earlier warnings of the disease and accelerate research. New approaches hope to discover the disease before symptoms ever present.

Like finding malignant cells in the body to find cancer or plaque buildup in the arteries for heart disease, the presence of amyloid and tau proteins could be the key to early identification. Previously, doctors could only see these proteins during an autopsy, but improved technology has allowed for these markers to be seen in living patients. These scans are sometimes used to rule out Alzheimer’s in patients with various cognitive issues.
Critics of the method agree that the process works to identify amyloid proteins but argue that there is no definitive way to predict whether or not the patient will actually develop symptoms.

Another test involves recognition of smells. One of the first things to decline is the ability to smell, which is associated with the first cranial nerve, according to WebMD.

Researchers have found the ability to smell differs between nostrils in Alzheimer’s patients but it is still too early to say definitively if this will be a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease.

When is memory loss more than forgetfulness?

Although everyone’s brain changes as they age, it’s important to understand that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Memory loss is typically one of the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but occasionally forgetting words or names does not mean a person has Alzheimer’s. There are other signs that someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may experience in addition to memory problems. In the early stages of the disease, these can include:

  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Having trouble handling money and paying bills.
  • Repeating questions.
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks.
  • Displaying poor judgment.
  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places.
  • Displaying mood and personality changes.

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than the person; it impacts the family.

Alzheimer's Awareness ribbonMemory loss is typically one of the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, learn the signs and symptoms associated with the disease; they shouldn’t be ignored. 

There are other causes for memory loss, such as depression and some medications, or interactions between medications. These are treatable conditions and the symptoms can be reversed. However, these are serious medical issues and should be identified and treated by a health care provider as soon as possible. There is currently no single test or measure that can tell you if you have Alzheimer’s disease.

If you or someone you know has several or even most of the signs listed above, it does not mean that you or they have Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to consult a health care provider to rule out treatable causes when you or someone you know has concerns about memory loss, thinking skills, or behavioral changes. Although getting Alzheimer’s disease cannot yet be stopped or reversed, an early diagnosis allows people and their families:

  • More time to plan for the future.
  • Less worry about the unknown.
  • Increased opportunities to participate in clinical drug trials to help advance research.
  • More time to make decisions about care, living options, and financial and legal affairs.
  • More time to develop relationships with doctors and care partners.

The bottom line is that signs and symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease shouldn’t be ignored. However, it’s not always the case that having some of these symptoms is a certain sign that you have the disease. Instead, until better diagnostic tests are designed, it’s better to be cautious and discuss your concerns with your health care provider.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease – the facts, the signs, treatment, and how loved ones can support friends and family members living with the disease.