Could a new test tell if and when you’ll get Alzheimer’s disease? Scientists believe they have created a genetic test which can pinpoint how old a person will be when they develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous genetic testing for Alzheimer’s has relied on detecting defects on the APOE gene, which has been believed to increase the risk of dementia symptoms by 15 times.

This new test, which can use DNA from either a person’s saliva or blood, includes looking for mutations in 26 different genes – mutations that were found in tens of thousands of people with dementia symptoms.

And with the mutations that are detected, an individual’s “hazard score” can be calculated.

People without the APOE mutation can still score high “hazard scores” and can be predicted to develop Alzheimer’s disease by 84 years of age – which is 10 years earlier than people who did test positive for the APOE mutation.

An important part of dementia and Alzheimer’s research is finding ways to prevent the development of symptoms, and, before that, creating tests to predicts who is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

This new research, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, was developed using genetic information from more than 70 000 patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“From a clinical perspective, this provides a novel way not just to assess an individual’s lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but also to predict the age of disease onset,” said senior author Dr Anders Dale from University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

“Equally important, testing of Alzheimer’s genetic risk can better inform prevention and therapeutic trials and be useful in determining which individuals are most likely to respond to therapy.”

At this current time, the genetic risk score is set to be used to help identify people to take part in further research studies and is yet to be open for testing dementia risk in the wider public.

In Australia, there are currently more than 400 000 people living with dementia and the condition is the second leading cause of death. Worldwide, there are more than 46.8 million people with dementia and this number is predicted to grow to 131.5 million by 2050.

Researchers believe that if drugs could effectively be made to reduce symptoms, that they could be given to patients early as a preventative treatment. This is because there is little chance of reversing the brain damage once it has occurred.

With the mentality that “prevention is better than a cure”, developing a test which can assess a person’s risk of dementia can help medical professionals to target the right patients and encourage them to make lifestyle changes that could decrease their chances even more.  

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