Detecting Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

The elusive cause of Alzheimer’s disease continues to frustrate researchers but they are getting better at discovering earlier indicators of it.

A new report from researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2016 (AAIC 2016), have developed a 38-point checklist that could be beneficial to doctors in identifying behavioral and personality changes in patients over time.

Currently, one in nine or 5.4 million Americans aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. develops it and in the year 2016, Alzheimer’s along with other dementias will cost the U.S. around $236 billion. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple over the next three decades.

What has been known is when there are noticeable changes in a person’s memory and thinking skills, what is referred to as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), there is a good chance they will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.  This study wanted to see if there were even much earlier symptoms or signs before MCI that could predict if a person was headed toward its development.

At the AAIC 2016 conference held in Calgary, Canada, the researchers explained in detail their development of the mild behavioral impairment checklist (MBI-C) that can be used to assess the presence of personality and behavioral changes among patients with dementia.

The researchers stated 77.8 percent of patients experience changes in mood, 64.4 percent experience reduced impulse control, and 51.7 percent experience become more apathetic before the disease is even diagnosed. It was revealed by the researchers that they had created a questionnaire helping identify a new clinical stage in the disease that doesn’t just solely focus on memory but also behavioral issues helping doctors and families to recognize symptoms more efficiently and accurately at a much earlier phase of the disease.

Any family member or caretaker of someone with Alzheimer’s will tell you that predating the severe memory loss, there were often other signs of something not quite right going on with the person who eventually developed the disease.  Sustained signs of anxiety, confusion, disorientation and lack of impulse control or agitation are red flags something is going on concerning family members but who do not always make the connection that it could be a very early sign of Alzheimer’s.

The MBI-C checklist developed by the researhcers, is a tool that can be used for much earlier detection of Alzheimer’s.  The 38-point questionnaire assesses neuropsychiatric symptoms of MBI in five areas:

  1. Apathy/drive/motivation
  2. Mood/affect/anxiety
  3. Impulse control/agitation/reward
  4. Social appropriateness
  5. Thoughts/perception

At this time, the questionnaire will still need to undergo performance testing but it is believed it could be a useful tool for doctors to pinpoint Alzheimer’s at its earliest stage before memory issues arise.  It is speculated a version families could use will be created to assess symptoms of a loved one who is showing signs of personality changes different from the person’s normal behavior.

It is the out-of-character behaviors – angry outbursts, anxiety, withdrawal and obsessiveness – that come about before any memory loss occurs signaling something is wrong. Many people believe Alzheimer’s is all about memory loss when it is not.  It encompasses a much broader spectrum including behavior, mood, and perception.

At this time there are no treatments to prevent or change the underlying cause or course of Alzheimer’s. But with earlier detection, the patient and family can get the support services they need as soon as possible.  It can be little things like making changes in their environment or possibly seeking help with medications to calm anxiety or depression making life a little easier for both the patient and family.

Families of loved ones with Alzheimer’s are encouraged to contact the Alzheimer’s Association Helpline (1-800-272-3900) to ask questions and for resources on dealing with this disease.

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David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor

View posts by David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team. Learn more at Visit Dr. Samadi's blog at Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
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