Alzheimer's screening for all over 65s could be available by 2013

Caroline Cassidy

More than 800,000 people suffer with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in Britain - a number which is predicted to double within a generation.

Worried man making notes memory loss Alzheimer's
Worried man making notes memory loss Alzheimer's

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Currently, a third of dementia cases are believed to go undiagnosed and untreated but that could change with the introduction of a new screening process, reports the Daily Mail.

Experts say that tests to detect Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia could be introduced within two years, which would effectively screen everyone over the age of 65 for the disease.

At the moment, doctors usually base their diagnosis on memory tests which include questions such as 'where are you?' and 'who is the prime minister?' Thanks to advances in science, the disease can now be detected with a simple blood test, while complex computer programmes can determine whether lapses in memory are caused by normal forgetfulness or signal the onset of dementia.

Barbara Sahakian, a professor at Cambridge University's psychiatry department, said routine screening would end the 'tragedy' of people being diagnosed with the disease too late.

"I am shocked some people are allowed to deteriorate so much and then finally someone figures out that they probably have Alzheimer's disease and takes them to the GP and psychiatrist. By that time the drugs don't work as effectively. It is tragic."

However, researchers are hopeful that new drugs capable of halting Alzheimer's will be available within five to 10 years – meaning that people who are picked up through screening may not go on to suffer the disease.

Professor Sahakian said these screening tests were now ready to be used and could be making an appearance in GPs surgeries by 2013.

Rebecca Wood, of Alzheimer's Research UK, welcomed further research but cautioned: "It's possible that screening could improve diagnosis rates – however, screening for any disease is controversial. We need more research to assess whether a screening programme could really help, or whether it would produce falsely positive or negative results."