The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published research indicating that Alzheimer’s can be predicted 20 to 30 years before symptoms appear.
Two studies published in May, 2015, that relied on testing data from almost 9,500 people found that a protein called beta amyloid appears in the brain up to 30 years before symptoms of dementia, and that amyloid corresponds to a high likelihood of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s researchers say that doctors should feel fairly confident that the presence of amyloid in the brain is caused by Alzheimer’s.
Screening for the presence of amyloid can be accomplished by PET scan or a cerebral spinal fluid test, which may help speed new research of Alzheimer’s treatments and ensure targeted experimental drug testing is more accurate.
The ability to test for at least some forms of dementia far in advance of symptoms, has far-reaching implications. With the average nursing home stay for an Alzheimer’s patient lasting around 10 years, long-term care providers and insurance companies have much at stake. Long-term care insurance providers require medical underwriting as part of the purchase of LTC insurance.
If amyloid testing, which is currently expensive, becomes routine, does that mean insurance companies will be able to easily deny coverage to those who need it most? Imagine auto insurance where the insurance company can test whether a driver will have an accident in the next year.
The research into early Alzheimer’s testing methods is very preliminary, but it indicates that predicting Alzheimer’s may be possible much sooner than treating or preventing it.