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Blood tests that detect Alzheimer's disease are on the horizon

Coverage of aging is supported in part by AARP Arizona

What if you knew you had Alzheimer’s disease before you had any symptoms? Blood tests that can detect amyloid plaque and tau, the proteins involved in dementia, will soon be available. 

Right now, the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s is with a PET scan, a lumbar puncture or after death. Blood tests could change that. 

"And now we're at the point that we have these blood tests that are highly accurate to identify the building up of the proteins that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Dani Cabral, an assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Arizona. 

Those proteins are amyloid and tau.

"So that is what Shelley was found to have was, was building up, and so on the trajectory to potentially develop Alzheimer's symptoms and memory loss," Cabral said.

Shelley, who asked not to use her last name, is participating in a clinical trial. 

"I do have my status. And in fact, did find out that I do have a couple of genes that are prone to Alzheimer's."

Shelley’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease. So, knowing that she has what Cabral calls “preclinical Alzheimer’s disease” wasn't shocking. 

"Knowing is a little bit empowering. It is scary. You think of things differently with your life every day," Shelley said.

Cabral and others will attend this the Dementia Friendly Summit in Tempe this Saturday to talk more about the potential of blood tests. 

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Senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.