Health Check: New way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease

Health Check: New way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. (WJAR)

A new way to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease has arrived and it’s quicker and less costly.

In fact, it can diagnose Alzheimer’s risk years before a person develops the memory robbing disease.

61-year-old Dave Kalberer, of Attleboro, said he feels like he's heading in the right direction.

Kalberer is taking part in an Alzheimer's prevention trial at Butler Hospital's Memory and Aging Program.

"My mother developed Alzheimer's in her late 60's and by the time she was 72 she died of complications of Alzheimer's,” said Kalberer

His dad has advanced Alzheimer's. As a result, he came to see Dr. Stephen Salloway at Butler Hospital’s Memory and Aging Program.

"The news is: here people can come in early, way before dementia, to see if they're at increased risk and to try to lower their risk," said Salloway.

Kalberer had a cheek swab that showed he carried a gene that puts him at higher risk. Then, he had a PET scan and an MRI. Finally, he had another diagnostic test: a spinal tap.

"When I hear spinal tap, I think of pregnant women screaming as they're going to have babies,” said Kalberer.

However, he admits that it wasn't bad at all. "The whole thing didn't take fifteen minutes," he recalled.

It’s done right in a patient room. "It was like a little pinch, kind of like going to your dentist," said Kalberer.

A little pinch that nets big information.

"The accuracy has really improved. So, this is a big advance," said Salloway. "It turns out that the changes in the spinal fluid occur many years before the memory loss."

"The whole field has shifted to trying to detect people at risk and then testing medicines and treatments, including healthy lifestyle, to try to delay — to modify — to lower the risk so people are less likely to develop memory loss,” said Salloway.

Kalberer, who has no symptoms of memory loss-- is now on a medication aimed at preventing Alzheimer's. And for anyone with a family history or even a concern, he has this to say:

"Get tested. Be part of this study. I feel like I'm helping a little bit,” said Kalberer.

Dr. Salloway was part of a group that came out with new guidelines advising physicians to prescribe spinal taps for people who either have memory loss or have a family history, as a way to diagnose Alzheimer's — getting them into prevention trials sooner rather than later.

He's also hoping more people will take part in prevention trials--there are many of them--no matter your risk

Click here for more information on spinal tap.

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