Maternally, I’m likely at some risk of developing Alzheimer’s; my mother is in the stages of this disease’s cruel final act. Her mother had it before her, as did her grandmother prior to that. So, it was with great interest that I read of a new test that may someday help health professionals diagnose susceptibility to the disease earlier.
Alzheimer’s is caused by developing clusters of a protein called beta amyloid plaques; researchers have now discovered that the retina of patients with Alzheimer’s has similar clusters attached to it. Theoretically, the hope is that at some point, doctors can examine the eyes of patients in their fifties to see whether or not these clusters have started developing. As the situation currently stands, experts estimate that the disease actually begins 10-15 years before symptoms start to develop. A preemptive strike could mean the world of difference in the quality of life for the country’s aging population.
This is indeed good news, if not for my generation, certainly for my children’s. The down side is, however, there is no treatment that even slows down the disease significantly, let alone cures it. I’m not sure I’d particular want to know this information if I can’t do anything about it. But, researchers are committed to doing what they can to stem the tide of Alzheimer’s because it is a serious demographic concern. By the year 2050, it’s estimated that 3 times as many people will have Alzheimer’s – a potential health care dilemma of epic proportions.
But until earlier diagnosis is possible, the Alzheimer’s Association has come up with 10 warning signs:
- Memory problems that interfere with daily life
- Difficulty with planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing routine tasks
- Confusion over time and place
- Trouble with spatial relationships and visual images
- New problem with words in speaking and/or writing
- Increase in poor judgement
- Withdrawal from social relationships
- Changes in mood and personality.