Trials have found the tests – which look for signs of the disease in the blood – can successfully detect up to 90 per cent of cases.
The NHS will launch a series of pilots from January in what charities say will be a major milestone in tackling the disease.
Doctors are hopeful they will become the gold standard for identifying the biggest killer in the UK, boosting and speeding up detection rates.
At present the only ways to definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s are through expensive brain scans or lumbar punctures, which involve taking a fluid sample from the patient’s spinal cord.
Trials have found the tests – which look for signs of the disease in the blood – can successfully detect up to 90 per cent of cases
The NHS will launch a series of pilots from January in what charities say will be a major milestone in tackling the disease. Pictured: Graphic showing how Alzheimer’s blood tests could work
But a lack of diagnostic capacity and long waiting lists mean only 2 per cent of cases are currently diagnosed this way.
With breakthrough treatments such as donanemab and lecanemab on the horizon, experts said it is vital to have a quick and reliable diagnoses route when drugs could be most effective.
The £5million project is being launched by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society to gather the real-world evidence needed for a mass rollout.
What is Alzheimer’s and how is it treated?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost. That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason. The progress of the disease is slow and gradual. On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
HOW IT IS TREATED?
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, some treatments are available that help alleviate some of the symptoms. One of these is Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors which helps brain cells communicate to one another.
Another is menantine which works by blocking a chemical called glutamate that can build-up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease inhibiting mental function.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, executive director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the world was ‘on the cusp of a new era of dementia treatments’ but these would only be possible with better diagnoses.
Cheap and reliable tests like those looking for biomarkers – telltale signs in the blood such as amyloid and tau – are therefore essential to exploit the ‘chink in the armour’ that has been discovered.
She said: ‘We need better, more scalable tests that are also accurate and compare to current gold standard methods.
‘Low-cost tools like blood tests that are non-invasive and simpler to administer than current gold standard methods are the answer to this.
‘But we need to move these tests out of the lab and assess their effectiveness in real-world settings like the NHS.’ Around 900,000 people live with dementia in the UK, with numbers projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Yet patients often face waits of between two and four years for a diagnosis, with around one in four dying before any formal diagnosis is made.
A range of tests for Alzheimer’s are currently in the research stages, including those looking for specific proteins that occur before dementia symptoms even appear.
Pharmaceutical giants Roche and Eli Lilly have also announced that they have joined forces to develop a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.
While some tests are being used in private clinics in Hong Kong and the US, UK charities say more work is needed to ensure tests are measuring the right combination of biomarkers.
Eventually, it is hoped they could be used as part of a national screening programme to detect dementia early, like mammograms for breast cancer, once proven treatments are available.
Dr Fiona Carragher, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said attitudes have changed with research showing nearly 90 per cent of people would want to know if they had the disease.
She said even without treatments, early diagnosis could help patients and their families to get support in place, while driving down preventable hospital admissions from ‘crises’ such as falls.
She said: ‘Getting an early and accurate diagnosis is the pivotal first step with getting help today and unlocking hope for the future.
‘A diagnosis should unlock access to personalised care and support, allowing people with their loved ones and family around them to live independently in the place they call home for as long as possible.’
Siz bizarre warning signs of Alzheimer’s
Giving out money
Giving out cash to strangers could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s.
That is according to research by USC and Bar-Ilan University in Israel, which linked financial altruism to the first stages of the disease.
The study tested the theory on 67 adults around the age of 70.
The participants were put in pairs with people they had never met, and were given $10 (£8) to distribute between themselves and the other.
Neurological tests were given to the participants to judge their cognitive state and their potential risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The results, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggested those who were at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s were also more willing to hand out money to the person they had never met.
Dr Duke Han, a neuropsychology professor at USC who led the research, said: ‘Trouble handling money is thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.’
Changes in humour and swearing more are all signs of Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) — a type of dementia that causes problems with behaviour and language. According to experts bad parking, and dressing scruffy are also signs of the memory-robbing disease. Graphic shows: Six signs of Alzheimer’s disease
Changes to humour
Starting to watch slapstick comedy classics like Airplane and Mr Bean could be another sign of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at University College London found people who had the disease were more likely to enjoy watching slapstick, absurdist or satirical comedy compared to other people of the same age.
A questionnaire was given to friends and relatives of 48 people with Alzheimer’s and FTD.
They were asked about their loved one’s preferences for different types of comedy and whether their taste had shifted over the past 15 years.
Researchers asked if they were a fan of slapstick comedy such as Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, satirical comedy such as South Park or absurdist comedy like The Mighty Boosh.
Family and friends were also asked if they had noticed any inappropriate humour in recent years.
According to the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015, people with the disease start to prefer slapstick jokes nine years before typical dementia symptoms begin to show.
It also found people with FTD were more likely to find tragic events funny, or laugh at things others would not find funny like a badly parked car or barking dog.
These changes in humour in could be caused by the brain shrinking in the frontal lobe, researchers say.
Making fashion disasters, struggling to piece together clothes that match and wearing things that are not weather-appropriate could be another sign of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at the universities of Kent and York described how people suffering with dementia were less likely to be able to dress themselves when left to their own devices.
The study, published in Sociology of Health and Illness in 2018, focused on 32 people in three care homes and 15 regular home sin Kent.
Researchers interviewed 28 care homes staff, 29 family carers and relatives to find out how you should dress people suffering with dementia.
Melissa, a family carer who was quoted in the study, said: ‘I’ve never seen my dad scruffy. Never. Until that day I turned up in the home and he’s sitting there in screwed up clothes which really hurt me because I’m not used to that – not at all.’
Carers also said it was difficult to dress people with more advanced dementia because they need encouragement and assistance guiding their arms.
Scruffiness and changes what they wear can be caused by several Alzheimer’s symptoms, from muscles stiffness and jolty arm movements making it physically harder to dress to simply forgetting clothes belong to them.
The memory-robbing condition can make Alzheimer’s patient’s bad at driving.
The condition affects motor skills, memory and thought processes making their reaction times slow and bad at parking, leading patients to eventually give up the keys to their car.
Researchers at Washington University in St Louis studied the driving habits of 139 people over a year to see how Alzheimer’s changes the ay they drove.
Half of the participants were diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s while the other half were not.
The study, published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy in 2021, suggested those with the disease were more likely to drive slowly and made sudden changes in direction.
The team used the findings to craft a model that predicted if people had Alzheimer’s based on their skills behind the wheel.
The model correctly guessed whether someone had the disease in nine out of 10 cases.
Having no filter and swearing in inappropriate situations could be another warning sign.
The filter people usually use to stop themselves using inappropriate language in front of children, for example, weakens with the disease, causing those with FTD to let more profanities slip.
People with FTD are more likely to use the word ‘f**k’ when prompted to name words beginning with ‘f’, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles found.
The study, published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology in 2010, asked 70 patients to name as many words as they could think of beginning with letters ‘f’, ‘a’ and ‘s’ in a minute.
They also found that six of the 32 dementia patients said the swear word when asked to list words for ‘f’, and more said the word ‘s**t’ for ‘s’.
Having no filter
Just like swearing, as Alzheimer’s patients’ brains change, they start to have no filter.
How they act and what they say can degenerate in many cases.
Undressing in public, being rude and talking to strangers are all signs of the disease, according to experts.
The frontal prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobes of the brain is the part that controls are filter. But when you develop Alzheimer’s this part of the brain shrinks.
Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘These situations can be very confusing, distressing, shocking or frustrating for someone with dementia, as well as for those close to them.
‘The person with dementia may not understand why their behaviour is considered inappropriate. It’s very unlikely that they are being inappropriate on purpose.’
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