Research has proven that the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s – beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles – can be present in the brain long before a person shows symptoms. Up until now, a brain imaging scan (like a PET or MRI) was the only definitive way to detect this early stage of the disease but these scans are so expensive that patients rarely receive them. A new review of over 60 studies has proven that cognitive tests, which are low cost and easy to implement, can also detect Alzheimer’s in its early stages. Dr. Duke Han, a neuropsychologist at Keck Medicine, University of California, concluded that people who had amyloid plaque in their brains performed worse on neuropsychological tests than those who had no plaque. He also found that if tau protein tangles were present, those patients performed even worse than the people with amyloid plaque.
Previously, researchers believed that there would be no difference in how people with preclinical Alzheimer’s would perform on the tests but this study proves that’s not case. Dr. Han believes these tests could be included in annual check ups for people over 50 to establish a baseline for their cognition, making it easier to detect whether they’re experiencing cognitive decline as they age.
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