Blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease: Questions and answers

Blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease: Questions and answers

Few diseases inspire as much fear as Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disease that destroys memory and identity. The fear is heightened by the uncertainty that often surrounds the diagnosis of the most common form of dementia.

Brain autopsies remain the only way to know for sure whether someone has had the disease, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates affects 6.5 million people in the United States of America. In recent years, sophisticated tests such as spinal taps and specialized PET scans have become available – but they are invasive and expensive and not used routinely.

As a result, Alzheimer’s disease is often misdiagnosed, especially in the early stages. Other illnesses, including depression, may have similar symptoms and require different treatments.

But simple blood tests designed to help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease are now on the market. There are more on the way. The tests are seen as important scientific advances, but they have sparked debate about how and when they should be used.

Some experts say much more research is needed before new tests can be widely applied, especially in primary care settings. Others say there enough information already about the accuracy of some tests. All agree that no test is perfect and that physicians should still perform a full clinical evaluation.

Widespread use of the tests may be free in the future — once insurance improves and even more accurate next-generation tests become available. For now, none are covered by Medicare, and private insurance is patchy.

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