Cheap, simple tests might be able to detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier

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DENVER — Cheap and simple tests might be able to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an earlier stage, research shows.

Smell and eye tests could help doctors diagnose the disease before symptoms appear, the Alzheimer’s Association said in a statement.

“Today, it is only possible to clinically detect Alzheimer’s relatively late in its development, when significant brain damage has already occurred,” the group said.

Doctors currently rely on brain scans to check for the buildup of amyloid plaques and the thickness of the brain’s cortex in areas important to memory — but the scans are expensive. Doctors can also check for amyloid in cerebrospinal fluid, but that requires a spinal tap.

Now experts say noninvasive eye and smell tests could help diagnose the disease before patients start to exhibit symptoms.

Two studies found changes in odor identification can be an early predictor of cognitive decline, or of the transition to dementia,  according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Two additional studies found “a strong association between thinning nerve layers in the retina of the eye and poor cognition” and “amyloid deposits in the retina of both people with Alzheimer’s.”

An estimated 5.4 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. About 67,000 Coloradoans have Alzheimer’s – and that number is projected to jump to 92,000 by 2025, the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.