Alzheimer's disease may well be one of the most insidious diseases ever spawned. Instead of just killing a person, it kills a person's connection to other people before it starts killing the person himself, or herself as the case may be. But new tools have recently emerged that may ultimately mean the difference between people with a horrific, debilitating disease and people who have recovered from a horrific, debilitating disease.
Since Alzheimer's disease attacks various parts of the brain, it's not surprising that most of the new tools involved in its detection and treatment focus on the brain. Several new findings--potential treatments tested first on mice, the molecular analysis of neurological issues, and improved medical imaging--have given rise to a variety of new facts about Alzheimer's, which in turn allows for improved responses to the disease.
One of the most interesting new findings is that, when people have Alzheimer's, the changes in brain function may actually begin several years before the symptoms of Alzheimer's even show up. So basically, this disease is actually gaining ground in a person's brain well before they even have cause to believe that they have it in the first place. Research further suggests that, in those cases, the changes in question may be identifiable with PET--Positron Emission Tomography--scans, and those at risk of developing the disease can be more readily identified and treated early.
As for treatment, there's also an encouraging note on that front. A new drug that works with changes in proteins at a biochemical level has shown some promise. The down side is that it's only worked in mice so far, and no one knows just how it works. There is also some hope for what's called an "antibody-based probe" that can tell the difference between normal and diseased brain tissue with a combination of nanotechnology and magnetic resonance imaging technology, as well as a potential connection with other dementia-related diseases that can provide some extra assistance in early detection and treatment.
The stakes are unimaginably high; Alzheimer's is reportedly the most common cause of dementia, and affects five million people nationwide with a good chance of that number nearly tripling to 13 million by just 2013. With steadily growing numbers of people potentially affected by this disease, being able to find a cure--or at least effective treatment--is of vital importance. New technologies are helping out on this front, but a lot more research needs to be done before this silent killer can finally be put to rest.
Edited by Brooke Neuman