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    Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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    Alzheimer's Feared, Misconceptions Common

    Survey Finds Alzheimer's Second Most Feared Disease, After Cancer

    Early Testing for Alzheimer's

    Several research groups are developing tests for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, but they are not yet ready for prime time. These include imaging scans with radioactive tracers that detect the amount of Alzheimer's associated plaque in the brain and an experimental test that looks for changes in the eye that can precede the development of Alzheimer's.

    Alzheimer's Association spokeswoman Mary Sano, PhD, director of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, says she's not surprised so many survey respondents embraced early testing.

    For starters, it allows families to prepare for the long road ahead while the patient's mind is still relatively intact, she says.

    Also, many patients are hopeful that testing will rule out Alzheimer's, giving them peace of mind, Sano tells WebMD.

    But other experts say they doubt respondents would have indicated such a willingness to be tested if they realized no effective treatment was available.

    “Without a treatment to offer, it doesn’t do the clinician much good to know who is at increased risk,” says William Thies, MD, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. Testing is still useful in the research setting, he adds.

    Testing for variants in the ApoE gene that are associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease were available for a while, and it became apparent that people did not want the test in the absence of an effective treatment, Thies tells WebMD.

    About 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, and the number of cases is expected to triple to 106 million by 2050.

    The survey was conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Alzheimer Europe. It was funded by Bayer AG, one of several companies developing an imaging test for early detection of the disease.

    These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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