Possible breakthrough in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

Today I read a story from the Associated Press by Marilynn Marchione, “Falls, eye test may give clues to Alzheimer’s.”

Scientists in Australia are encouraged by early results that suggest retinal photographs show a difference in the width of blood vessels in the nerve layer in the back of eyes for individuals with Alzheimer’s and others with mild cognitive impairment. “The amount of difference matched the amount of plague seen on brain scans.” Although brain scans can be used to detect evidence of Alzheimer’s, they are impractical to use widely because of expense.

Another study done at Washington University in St. Louis, “involving 125 people, average age 74” revealed a correlation with falls and Alzheimer’s. “The risk of falling was nearly three times as great for each unit of increase in the sticky plaque that scans revealed of their brains.”

According to Dr. Ronald Petersen, a dementia expert at the Mayo clinic, Alzheimer’s can start with vision changes. “Eye doctors often are the first to see patients with signs of Alzheimer’s.”

Without a cure in hand, I wonder about the value of knowing you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s earlier. Marchione writes, “Finding it early mostly helps patients and their families prepare and arrange care.”

I suppose in our case, finding it early would have allowed us to understand Dad’s wishes a little better while he still had his full cognitive capabilities. It also would have caused him the grief of knowing. Although I’m not sure that he doesn’t know now. The occurrence of Alzheimer’s in my dad was surrounded by a fog of “Is there something strange going on here, or is it my imagination?”

Then incidences started building up and the dread thickened until finally we were willing to act and a diagnosis was made.

I’ve tried to remember when I first started noticing a problem with Dad. I think I saw worrisome symptoms as early as November of 2007 during my son’s wedding, although at the time I attributed it to simple aging. My son’s wedding was in St. Louis.  I had spoken with my oldest sister about driving with, following or leading, my parents on the trip to St. Louis.

But at the very end of the drive to St. Louis, my sister and her husband got split off from my parents. My dad got very confused about what exit to take. My parents arrived at the hotel flustered. This was not normal. My dad was good at finding his way places.

When my father-in-law died in the spring of 2008 and my parents came to the funeral, my sister noted that Dad seemed to be “wandering” at the church and then later at the reception.

I think it was in early to mid 2008 that my mom talked to me about some worrisome things she was noticing with Dad’s behavior. In particular, he never knew what day of the week it was.

She took him to a doctor for some physical tests and cognitive tests. Physical conditions for Dad’s unusual behavior were ruled out.

Dad was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s some time in the fall or winter of 2008. He was prescribed Aricept.

I suppose it is all water under the dam as far as Dad is concerned. We know now.

The better question in light of the fact that my dad and his sister both have Alzheimer’s is, would I want to know?

16 thoughts on “Possible breakthrough in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s”

  1. This is such a difficult question, and it’s one I’ve often thought about as well, Christine — my husband’s father and aunt both had Alzheimer’s. I don’t know if I would like to be forewarned or not about whether he may develop it (as you say, there’s no cure). If any kind of pre-treatment would help then of course we should know; otherwise, I’m not sure what the advantage really is.

    1. I think they are learning more and more about this every day. I am hopeful that in the next 5 to 10 years there may be more help. I need to find out about Aricept. My understanding is that it allows you to maintain a certain cognitive level for a while, but it does not alter the end result. So maybe if you started that earlier it would help more? Don’t know.

      None of us can see the future. Sometimes we worry about things that never happen.

  2. You are not alone in your wondering if it is better to know in advance or not. My father had Parkinson’s and if we had known earlier would we have done things differently? I don’t know. I think Alzheimer’s just robs the person of so much and if there is a way to head it off it may be a blessing to know that but it is a hard call. And yes–sometimes we do worry about things that may never happen.

  3. I’m torn. If I can stop it, I want to know. If I can’t, then I want it over quickly. I’ve always said that I don’t want to continue living if my brain is not functioning properly. But, would that mean I would stop living as soon as signs indicated that I am following in my father’s footsteps?

    1. Well, I still consider my dad’s life valuable. He may be tortured, and I certainly am mourning, but there are still moments when we connect.

      Life is precious in all its forms.

  4. I saw this on the news too. And wondered.

    I think it is good that the doctors can find out earlier on.

    The rest…well I am not sure yet. 🙂

    Be well Christine. 🙂

  5. I agree with you about knowing. It’s a grim prospect to think about longer than necessary, when there is no way to avoid it’s onset. Thank you for this information. My husband had been seeing the ophthalmologist for vision problems before the Alzheimer’s was recognized and diagnosed. Blessings to you, Christine…

  6. Because my mom had Alzheimer’s, my having it sits on the backburner of my mind…simmering. I toy with the idea of having a brain scan at Dr. Amen’s clinic here in Bellevue, Washington. If discovered early, they can prescribe treatment to help delay the onset…or potentially stop it altogether. From reading his books, he and his team have evidently had success. Patients have attested to it.

    Recently Ron Reagan Jr. opted not to be tested for Alzheimer’s, his dad having had it. The reason given was if there isn’t a cure, then Ron Jr. didn’t want to know. It reminded me of my own thoughts. Will knowing I have the Alzheimer gene, stop me from living my best life then and there?

    …still struggling with the decision…to know…or not. 😉

  7. That is a very hard question, Christine. I guess the best thing we can do is live each day to the fullest, and not worry about a future we may or may not have.

  8. Being forwarned hummm, would we be any better off knowing sooner? I dont know, My in-laws both suffered with Alzheimer’s to varying degrees… the one thing as a family we were all agreed upon was that it was a blessing for them they were not aware of their own degree of illness, for them each moment was new…. as they forgot the last one… I think that is what we should in a way try to do too… Live in the now moment and not try to Analyse the past of the whys and wherefores.. As difficult as it is…. Sometimes we have to accept that this was the way things were meant to unfold… as we learn and grow within our experiences..

    PS love your new Picture of you by the way Christine… You look lovely 🙂

    1. Thank you, Sue.

      I’m trying to approach Dad’s Alzheimer’s the same way you describe. Each moment is new and one to hold on to. We never really know what tomorrow brings.


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