Newswise — Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Center, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University has investigated a blood test for markers of Alzheimer’s that could provide a 10-year warning so people can be prepared to slow the development of dementia in the elderly .
Alzheimer’s is a disease that many people pray that they or their loved ones do not experience. But looking at the current social context, there is no denying that the disease is more relevant to us than it seems, as it usually manifests itself when we are 60 years old or older. Because we live in an aging society, dementia is becoming more and more common.
Currently, 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia. In Thailand, there are 700 thousand such patients, of which 500 thousand suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Without individual and social measures to delay or prevent dementia, the number of cases will increase. It is estimated that the world population of elderly people with dementia will triple within thirty years!
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are incurable, so it’s best to prevent or delay them as soon as possible.
Poosanu Thanapornsangsuth, MD, Professor of Neurology, Department of Medicine, and Head of the Neurodegenerative Disease Biomarker Project at Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Center, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, discusses the approach to Alzheimer’s prevention: “Alzheimer’s has an incubation period of 10 – 15 years before the onset of symptoms, and may be called latent Alzheimer’s. Patients show no symptoms. They can work normally. By the time the disease has progressed to the point where symptoms manifest, the patient would have already lost many brain cells and it is difficult to rehabilitate or save the brain. Now we have a medical technology that allows us to detect the presence of the disease before people retire, so that we can take care of ourselves and stay away from dementia before symptoms appear.”
Elderly at risk of dementia
Dementia can be caused by many causes and many diseases, but the main culprit is Alzheimer’s disease and the second is vascular disease. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, but there are many contributing factors including genetics, the environment, pollution, stress, etc.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are common in the elderly aged 60 and over, with 1 in 16 people over 60 having a chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, while at 80 and over the ratio rises to 1 in 6 .
“The longer someone lives, the greater the risk of dementia.”
Dementia begins with forgetfulness about past events. As symptoms progress, patients become less and less able to help themselves until they are no longer able to carry out their daily activities independently as they used to and require constant supervision. And when the disease has reached the final stage, they are at risk of dying from infections.
“This disease is a nightmare for the patients as it erases the patient’s identity which has been falsified over time. Life is full of challenges, which affect loved ones in the family,” said Poosanu.
Predicting dementia before symptoms appear
In general, there are two ways to check for Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear:
- PET scan (Positron emission tomography) is a nuclear diagnostic technology that uses imaging to evaluate the function of organs and tissues in the body. The cost of the survey is quite high and takes 2-3 days to complete.
- Lumbar puncture and subsequent measurement of the level of Alzheimer’s-causing protein in spinal fluid. In Thailand, this procedure can only be performed by a doctor. This method has been used sparingly because many people are afraid of possible pain.
Dr. Poosanu reveals that currently the Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Center uses immunological techniques to perform blood tests instead of lumbar puncture, and analysis is done by simoa (single molecule array) or LC-MS (mass spectrometry) to detect phosphorylated Tau in the blood which may indicate the presence of latent Alzheimer’s, and Neurofilament light channel, a test for brain cell loss. The project is funded by the Institute of Health Systems Research Institute (HSRI).
This approach offers a more affordable solution with a less complex and less painful procedure that produces more accurate results.
“Alzheimer’s protein detection with a blood test is a new and cost-effective procedure that can deliver up to 88 percent accuracy. As with the techniques used abroad, the cost of the test is low compared to the traditional methods. Importantly, it also increases the accessibility of the service,” explains Dr. Poosanu. “The test is simple and safe. The test subject does not need to be fasting for the blood test. Only 10 cc. blood is needed for a single test and analysis takes 2 months to get results.
The subjects will also have to take a cognitive test to assess their “brain reserve”.
“Alzheimer’s or other latent diseases don’t always manifest, especially in people with good brain reserve,” Dr. Poosanu said.
The result of the blood test should be analyzed together with the result of the cognitive test. The whole process, especially processing the results, is complicated and should only be done by an expert!
Take care of yourself today to reduce the risk of latent dementia
For people with risk factors for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, whether due to genetic factors, environmental factors, pollution or aging, good self-care will reduce additional risk factors and the risk of dementia by 40 percent. Dr. Phusanu further recommends a course of action to prevent dementia:
Make sure you do not have non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. or if you have NCDs, treat and monitor them properly.
People who suffer from deafness, are hard of hearing, their brains are not stimulated, and this can easily lead to dementia. Seek medical treatment.
Eat nutritious foods, especially those that help prevent dementia, such as fruits and vegetables. Meat should be seafood. Avoid desserts, salty foods and fried foods. Eat vegetable fats such as olive oil or nut oil, etc. Do not smoke. Reduce or stop drinking.
“The most important thing is that you practice every day for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Exercise can reduce dementia because it helps the body produce the substance that regenerates the brain,” concludes Dr. Phusanu.
However, in addition to the risk factors that everyone can take care of to maintain their physical and mental health, there are other social risk factors such as air pollution, depression and social isolation that result from living alone. These risk factors require the cooperation of people in society to take care of their environment and relationships so that we can stay away from Alzheimer’s disease.
Those interested in blood tests to detect latent Alzheimer’s can follow the news and updates on the Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Center Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/trceid.