Alzheimer’s disease creates changes in the brain,
but until now those changes were not visible in living patients. However, a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology has reported finding a method that changes that.
Using PET scans to measure a protein called SV2A, researchers were able to distinguish between the brains of study participants who have mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s and those with no cognitive impairment. The study focused on seniors; the average age of the participants was 73.
The brain works when chemicals called neurotransmitters are released from the end of one nerve in the brain (neuron), jump a narrow gap (synapse) and attach to an adjacent neuron. The more synapses, the better the cognitive function.
The protein SV2A is found at the terminal end of neurons, and measuring the amount of SV2A
is a measure of how many synapses are active in the brain.
This study was the first to demonstrate a method of differentiating between cognitively impaired brains and normal brains in living people.
The PET scans showed significantly less SV2A in the brains of those with cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s, particularly in the hippocampus region. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that forms memories; it is also the location of the earliest damage associated with Alzheimer’s.
The PET scan results also correlated with cognitive tests, showing that the scans did indeed identify early cognitive decline.
What is the advantage of a test for Alzheimer’s? Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is normally done through cognitive testing, and lacks the precision of a scan. However, a precise test would allow doctors not only to identify Alzheimer’s earlier, but also to measure its progression, and to evaluate the efficacy of treatments.
Incidentally, the study authors add that their method might also work on other neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions, which have also been resistant to brain data–based diagnoses.
Put simply, by Dr. Eliezer Masliah, the director of the National Institute of Aging’s Neuroscience Division, this study is “a breakthrough.”
Until this test comes into use, the best way to help Alzheimer’s and other cognitively-impaired patients is to find them a home that tailors its care to their specific needs. Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, offers a Memory Care unit that ensures the safety and well-being of this vulnerable population. Our caregivers are specially trained in caring for the memory-impaired with sensitivity and understanding, always treating them with the dignity and love they deserve.
Our program is designed to help the memory-impaired maximize their cognitive function, enhance their social lives, and give these residents the happiest, most enjoyable life they can lead, all in a safe and homelike environment
Contact us at 609-588-5800 or by clicking here, to discuss the needs of your loved one.