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Early testing for Alzheimer’s

Spinal fluid compounds can predict in many cases whether people with mild cognitive impairments will develop the disease

Elderly people with mild cognitive losses are at a heightened risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s disease if they have a combination of telltale compounds in their spinal fluid, researchers report in the July 22/29 Journal of the American Medical Association.

By testing for a shortage of a sticky compound called amyloid-beta in the spinal fluid and for excess amounts of two kinds of a protein called tau, the scientists could identify people at greatest risk.

The test isn’t foolproof, and a positive reading still warns of a disease for which there is no cure. But scientists are heartened by this and earlier studies (SN: 9/20/03, p. 179)because Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to foresee and its early symptoms are often mistaken for routine cognitive losses caused by aging.

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