Predictive Test for Alzheimer’s Raises Medical 
 Possibilities, Ethical Questions

The development of a test that may make it possible to predict Alzheimer’s disease years before symptoms appear has wide-ranging implications for physicians, drug developers and patients.

Alzheimer’s claims the lives of half a million elderly Americans annually, according to some estimates. Older people are particularly cognizant of the danger: More than a third of women 60 or older say they fear Alzheimer’s more than any other disease, including cancer.

With the number of people 65 or older expected to nearly double by 2050, Alzheimer’s diagnoses will likely continue to rise. Social services and supportive therapy can render the progression of the disease somewhat more tolerable for patients and families, but no medical treatments available today slow or cure Alzheimer’s. At most, medical therapies provide temporary symptom management.

Into this bleak picture comes a new blood test with the potential to predict Alzheimer’s before it causes symptoms — up to three years out, in fact. Led by neurologists at Georgetown Medical University, the study was reported in Nature Medicine in March.

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