Elder Law

Cutting-Edge Blood Test Identifies Alzheimer’s Disease Years Prior to Symptoms

The incidence of Alzheimer’s is on the rise among the growing population of aging Americans. Recent data from the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s disease fact sheet show the illness as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. It’s also the most common form of dementia among seniors.

Alzheimer’s disease has three typical biomarkers:

  • Plaques of beta-amyloid protein
  • Tangles of tau protein
  • Loss of connections in the synapses that communicate information between brain cells

A simple blood test may now be able to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before any symptoms, such as declining memory and cognitive skills, become apparent.

New Alzheimer’s Blood Test

The new test involves identifying changes in levels of NfL, a neurofilament light chain protein found in the brain. This protein is part of the internal skeleton and resides inside neurons and brain cells, but when damaged or dying NfL leaks into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), it gets circulated into the bloodstream. CSF provides essential mechanical and immunological protection to the brain.

Previous Alzheimer’s Testing

Formerly, testing to determine elevated levels of NfL in the cerebrospinal fluid involved a lumbar puncture or a spinal tap, which are procedures many people are reluctant to undergo. Still, measuring a person’s NfL level is a reliable way to determine if brain damage has occurred and if the person is at an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s presymptomatic stages.

Testing of NfL “… could be a good preclinical biomarker to identify those who will go on to develop clinical symptoms,” says co-first study author Stephanie A. Schultz, a graduate student at Washington University.

To Test or Not to Test

A simple Alzheimer’s blood test can predict your future health and detect if you are susceptible to the disease, but do you want to know? Currently, there’s no cure, and depending on the level of optimism an individual displays, knowing their NfL status could be a blessing or a curse.

The blood test gives a pre-diagnosis years ahead of the onset of symptoms. Some seniors would find this information disheartening and feel burdened and upset about what may lie ahead. Other seniors might want to have a pre-diagnosis to relish the time they have left with full faculties. They may want to get their affairs in order and determine their care, treatment, and end-of-life decisions for the future before they can no longer do so.

Many factors contribute to whether a person wants to know if they are susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease, such as:

  • Family structure
  • Faith
  • Financial independence
  • Education level
  • General health and wellbeing

Knowing Helps Your Family

Most families would like to know if one of their loved ones is susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease so they can plan accordingly. As a spouse or child, it’s crucial that advance medical directives be in place for when their loved one can no longer make sound decisions. They may also be comforted by participating in the planning process.

A spouse must prepare for when their loved one enters a full-time care facility. The spouse with dementia may forget they are married and begin a relationship with another resident. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor encountered this with her husband and famously became involved in raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2018 and retired from public life.

Beyond the Emotional Effects of Alzheimer’s

Beyond the emotional aspect of having an Alzheimer’s stricken spouse or parent who doesn’t recognize you, there is a substantial financial component to caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s. For practical and economic reasons, a family should be able to determine a loved one’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s through this simple blood test.

To ascertain your spouse or parent’s risk of Alzheimer’s requires conversation, acceptance of the blood test, and careful planning with an elder law attorney for proper legal documentation.

Please contact our Spokane office today or schedule a consultation to discuss your legal matters. We would be happy to help you and welcome your call.

No Legal Advice Intended. This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal issues or problems.