A medical worker helping an elderly woman

New tests for Alzheimer’s could diagnose disease before symptoms appear

Alzheimer’s disease affects hundreds of thousands of Canadians and their families. It’s a debilitating disease that progressively deteriorates a person’s mental capacity and commonly starts to show its signs in people of middle age or older.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, in 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (14.9% of Canadians 65 and older). If nothing changes in Canada by 2031, this figure may increase to 1.4 million.

There is good news. Researchers in the United Kingdom have developed a simple test that could be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s up to two years before symptoms of the disease start to appear. This would allow doctors to treat and delay the effects of the disease, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge.

Similar to Canada, the UK has about 850,000 people living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s, and it is estimated that more than one million will have dementia by 2025 if something is not done to prevent it.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed what they have coined the “Four Mountains” test. Kashmira Gander explains how the test works in the Independent:

It involves showing a patient an image of a mountain landscape. The patient is then shown the image alongside three other landscapes, including one which is the original but from a different angle.

Whether a patient can successfully identify the correct picture can indicate whether they may develop Alzheimer’s.

The team, who tried the method on 15 patients with mild cognitive impairment, found that it identified those who would develop Alzheimer’s two years before they were diagnosed.

This test has been found to be as accurate as a surgical procedure and twice as accurate as memory tests that doctors use.

Scientists from University College London also recently announced they had created an algorithm that can predict a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s within the next five years. According to the Mirror, “The DRS [dementia risk score] was tested in a separate set of patient records and was able to predict people aged 60 to 79 who are at very low risk of developing dementia over the next five years with 85% accuracy.”

This research is positive news. However, more research will likely need to be done before the tests are used in diagnosing patients.