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MADISON- It's estimated as many as 5.1 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. Researchers are diligently working to understand more about this mysterious disease. It can take years to show signs that Alzheimer's already started taking its toll.
In order to diagnose somebody with Alzheimer’s, they must show clinical symptoms such as memory and language problems that affect how they live on a day to day basis. Researchers are working on how to identify Alzheimer's before that point.
Dr. Cindy Carlsson is part of the University of Wisconsin's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. It's the only geriatric-based Alzheimer's research center in the country and they're focusing on prevention efforts.
The center works with a group of 500 people that are tested regularly.
"We can look for little subtle brain changes to evaluate if there's shrinkage in the important parts of the brain that relate to memory and learning," said Carlsson.
This helps researchers identify the risk factors and protective factors against Alzheimer's.
It's a unique opportunity right here in Madison, but still existing is the need to determine biomarkers with brain scans, spinal fluid and blood tests.
"You can see some really early changes in parts of the brain that are really important for memory and learning and they can have some early shrinkage changes or some early changes in blood flow or function," Carlsson said.
Other scans can detect plagues, called amyloids, which are thought to cause Alzheimer's disease.
Carlsson said detection helps identify early, subtle changes on people thinking and functioning normally.
"So that tells us those are the people we really want to identify for prevention studies and really try to help those people to not develop Alzheimer's down the road."
There's a history of Alzheimer's in my family, including my paternal grandmother. So I decided to take a cognitive part of the test to see if there are any early signs.
I went through a series of memory-based test, testing my ability to recall a list of household items.
Tests like these are simple to administer, but Dr. Carlsson said funding isn't at the level needed to really further the research.
The National Institutes of Health and local agencies are working with pharmaceutical companies to pool resources and develop a data base that utilizes research in multiple ways and collaborate with other groups researching the disease.
The UW center is an NIH-funded center that also works with other Alzheimer’s centers in the country and globally to share research and resources.
But deficits still exist.
"What we really need to find now are the best treatment and prevention options and that's where we've really fallen short,” said Carlsson. “We have some treatments, but they don't work very well, they slow down symptoms a little bit, but we have no prevention efforts."
If you’re interested in more information on studies:
Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center http://adrc.wisc.edu/
International Alzheimer's Disease Research Portfolio (IADRP):
Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI)
Monday, February 10 2014, 08:31 PM CST
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