WASHINGTON — It’s one of the worst diseases that strikes senior citizens by any standard. It steals their memory, erases names, faces, family and friends — basically the victim’s entire life. And it claims half a million lives a year. Now, researchers have developed a means of determining those most at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in most cases. There hasn’t been a good way to predict whose brains will get the plaques and tangles that destroy memory and concentration and who will be spared. But in a first-of-its-kind study, a simple blood test was able to predict who would get the disease. This is a really wonderful piece of science, Dr. Howard Federoff, neurologist at Georgetown University Medical Center, said. It’s the most significant observation that we’ve been able to report in my entire scientific career.The researchers looked at the blood of healthy elderly people, checking for 10 fatty molecules called lipids. Those who had lower levels of lipids were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or the memory problems that precede Alzheimer’s. On average, the change, from healthy to sick, took just two years. And the test was just over 90 percent accurate. The researchers and the Alzheimer’s Association point out that other labs need to validate that this test really works and even if all goes well, the test won’t be in doctor’s offices for several years. So, who would want a test to predict Alzheimer’s? After all, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Federoff says he wants to know. I would want to plan. I would want to work with my family to make sure that I attend to the issues that are important to us, he said. But some people might not want to know that they’re destined for a devastating disease.
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