Brain Plaque Can Be Used To Predict Alzheimer’s

A pair of recent studies has found a link between amyloid plaques and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. As published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the studies found that the presence of a certain kind of beta amyloid has a high probability of predicting whether or not a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life, even 20 or 30 years in the future.

A New Way to Detect for Alzheimer’s

As described by Alz.org, brain plaque develops “when protein pieces called beta-amyloid clump together.” These small clumps of amyloid can impede synaptic function and can cause inflammation in the brain by triggering an autoimmune reaction. The studies support the notion PET scans or cerebral spinal fluid tests can be used to detect the amyloid decades before potential Alzheimer’s sufferers begin showing signs of dementia. By detecting the disease before it has a chance to inflict irreversible damage to the brain, doctors can develop new courses of treatment that can counteract the malady’s devastating effects.   

Not Quite a Silver Bullet

Despite the hope these studies might give future Alzheimer’s sufferers, there are some challenges to overcome before its findings can be turned into real preventive measures. One major speed bump is that amyloid detecting tests are very expensive and are not covered by many health insurance plans. Another issue is finding an anti-amyloid drug that can be both safe and effective when taken over the course of 30 years, because, as noted by Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. Samuel Gandy, “We’ll be exposing people to a drug for decades when they are healthy.”

A Natural Preventive Measure  

As an interesting side note, one of the researchers had an innovative theory regarding one of the studies’ findings. Neuropsychologist Rik Ossenkoppele, PhD, noted that more educated subjects who tested positive for amyloid did not have signs of dementia, and that this fact may suggest that more educated people retain cognitive integrity longer than their less educated counterparts. This may support what is called cognitive reserve theory, the notion that people with more developed synaptic pathways are more resistant to neuropathological damage.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, or even a drug that have been proven to successfully prevent or treat the disease, doing something as simple as learning a new language or taking up Sudoku may help preserve your brain.