Scientists are close to reaching a long-sought goal – a blood test to identify possible signs of Alzheimer's and other diseases of the brain.
This comes as a recent large study shows healthy behavior can cut a person's risk of developing such conditions, even if they have genes that raise that risk.
At the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on July 15, six research groups presented new results on several experimental tests. This included one that appears to be 88 percent accurate at identifying Alzheimer's risk.
Doctors are hoping for something to use during regular exams that can measure most signs of brain-destroying diseases. They could make better decisions about which patients need additional testing. Current tools such as brain scans and spinal fluid tests are too costly or difficult to do during regular meetings with patients.
We need something quicker ... It doesn't have to be perfect to be useful, said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association.
Recent progress in dealing with conditions like Alzheimer's has not been limited to treatment.
It showed that people with high genetic risk and poor health habits were about three times more likely to develop dementia than those with low genetic risk and good habits. And, with any level of genetic risk, a good diet, regular exercise, limited alcohol use and no tobacco use made dementia less likely.
After about eight years of observation, 1.8 percent of those with high genetic risk and unhealthy behavior had developed dementia.
John Haaga of the National Institute on Aging says the study results are good news.
No one can guarantee you'll escape this ... disease but clean living can improve your chances, Haaga said.
One limitation of the study is that researchers only had information on mutations affecting people of European ancestry.
The results should ease fears that gene mutations alone decide one's brain health, said Rudy Tanzi, a genetics expert at Massachusetts General Hospital. Less than 5 percent of the mutations tied to Alzheimer's are fully penetrant, meaning that they guarantee a person will get the disease, he said.
That means that with 95 percent of the mutations, your lifestyle will make a difference, Tanzi said. Don't be too worried about your genetics. Spend more time being mindful of living a healthy life.
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