Though doctors could determine that a person had Alzheimer’s disease by particular symptoms, a formal diagnosis could not be performed until examining the brain during an autopsy. This may be a thing of the past, with two diagnostics tests on the horizon – a blood test that can detect the protein beta amyloid and a brain scan that can detect the protein tau.
These types of diagnostic testing may become more widespread, and with proteins developing on a person’s brain before symptoms of the disease appear, a diagnosis can be formed before a patient develops Alzheimer’s most feared symptom – dementia. A positive test could help a person get their affairs in order and form a plan for their future. And a drug company, Biogen, claims to have the first treatment that may slow the course of the disease if begun early enough. But how would knowing that one day you may not recognize any of your loved ones affect your choices today? Medical insurance companies are banned from denying coverage for patients with Alzheimer’s diagnoses, but nothing is stopping long-term care insurers or even life insurers from denying them.
Dr. Daniel Gibbs, 68, a neurologist in Portland, noticed little slip ups in his memory and decided to get brain scans for beta amyloid and partake in cognitive tests. He was diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and now has severe worries about his future, going so far as telling his family that if he gets something like pneumonia, they should withhold treatment.
See Gina Kolata, Alzheimer’s Tests Soon May Be Common. Should You Get One?, New York Times, December 20, 2019.
Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.