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beach-footprintsOne of the more controversial subjects surrounding Alzheimer’s is whether or not it makes sense to push for early diagnosis. After all, this is a disease with no cure and no proven treatment, right? So, what good could come of knowing sooner than later?

Preclinical Diagnosis

A study recently published in the Annals of Neurology has found a link between the amount of mitochondrial DNA in one’s spinal fluid and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. The research shows that asymptomatic patients as well as those already experiencing symptoms have lower levels of mitochondrial DNA, and perhaps most important is the fact that this can be detected up to 10 years before symptoms appear.

Professor Ramon Trullas, head of the study being conducted at CSIC Institute of Biomedical Research at Barcelona, explains that these findings could lead to viable treatment options in the preclinical stages – something that simply doesn’t exist today.

Younger Onset

The medical community believes that the sooner treatment begins, the more likely it is that symptoms can be controlled or delayed. Imagine receiving a younger onset diagnosis in your 40’s or 50’s. For those families, truly in the prime of their lives, a few years can make a significant difference not only in planning and preparation, but in the amount of quality time they have together.

Clinical Trials and Support

Early diagnosis also allows patients to enter clinical trials much sooner, giving researchers an opportunity to study the brain in the earliest stages of the disease. The hope is that this early research will lead to treatments that can halt Alzheimer’s long before symptoms begin to manifest themselves.

Another important aspect of early diagnosis is that it gives families a chance to engage meaningful support from the very beginning. I believe that alone can be immensely helpful. With my mom, one of our greatest mistakes was allowing denial to take over.

I remember well how defensive she was; I never wanted to rock the boat, so we didn’t talk about it.  Looking back, I think about how we could have handled things differently if we had faced reality at the first sign something was wrong. Building a support network would have been extremely beneficial.

More Questions Than Answers

At the end of the day, we all have to make our own choice. This is one of those situations where there’s really no right or wrong decision. Each of us is influenced by our own past experience, and although I had always been of the mind that I didn’t want to know, that changed as I watched my own mother slip away.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next five years. Will insurance companies begin to cover PET scans and spinal taps to assist in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s? If so, how many people will line up for the tests? Or will fear of becoming uninsurable force people to remain in the dark for as long as possible?

Lots of questions, not so many answers…  I suppose only time will tell.

I would love to hear your opinions. Leave a comment to weigh in on whether or not you think early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s makes sense.