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Uncertainty Surrounds Testing for Alzheimer's
Date:10/2/2009

Early diagnosis is helpful, but no sure-fire test exists, experts say,,

FRIDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- The earlier a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made, the earlier treatment can begin. On that, experts agree.

With a growing array of tests available to predict your odds of developing the degenerative brain disorder -- including some sold over the Internet -- it seems easier than ever to figure it out: Do you or don't you have out-of-the-ordinary memory problems? Should you or shouldn't you be worried about late-life dementia?

But answering those questions is not as simple as it might seem. For starters, before deciding whether to take an Alzheimer's test, experts say it's important to consider the pros and cons.

There is no quick or definitive test for Alzheimer's, said Dr. Raj Shah, medical director of the Rush Memory Clinic at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The disease now affects more than 5 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

One test commonly used by experts such as Shah is called the mini-mental state examination, a test of cognitive function -- including memory, reasoning, communicating and understanding -- to see if deficits exist. Also, British researchers have compared a new test they developed, called TYM, for "Test Your Memory," with other currently available tests. Their report, published in BMJ in early June, found TYM more accurate than many tests. Numerous tests are sold over the Internet.

None of the tests are diagnostic, experts caution, and serve only as a screening, sometimes with results suggesting that the person taking the test needs further evaluation and sometimes not. No test should be a substitute for a thorough exam by a skilled doctor, warns the Alzheimer's Association.

"There's been this search for the holy grail, the perfect test for Alzheimer's," Shah said. So far at least, none has been found.


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