Putting Alzheimer's to the Tests; February 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Beardsley; 2 Page(s)
A physician examining an elderly person suffering from mild dementia has a difficult diagnosis to make. Alzheimer's disease would be immediately suspected, but in about a third of such patients the cause is actually something different. Because brain biopsies--the only clear means of identifying the neural changes caused by the disease--are rarely performed, de- finitive diagnosis must wait until after a patient dies. Finding the true problem is crucial, however, because some conditions that mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as a brain tumor, may be readily treatable.
Last year saw an explosion of research on Alzheimer's, and several new techniques offer the hope of more certain identification. They also point to better ways of monitoring the disease's progression, which could speed the discovery of effective drugs.