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Scientific American: Should You Get a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s?

The Scientific American podcast series “Your Health, Quickly” recently interviewed memory disorder specialist Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders at Cedars-Sinai, about whether new blood tests can detect Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that affects about 6 million people in the U.S.

The tests are designed to find traces of the amyloid protein, a key component of plaques that form in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s.

Tan, who holds the Carmen and Louis Warschaw Chair in Neurology, told “Your Health, Quickly” hosts Josh Fischman and Tanya Lewis that although the blood tests can detect amyloid, a positive result doesn’t necessarily mean a person is going to develop Alzheimer’s.

“We don’t routinely look for amyloid in the workup for someone with memory issues because there’s a subset of individuals who will get amyloid positivity without having disease,” Tan told Fischman and Lewis. “Obtaining a thorough medical history, performing a physical neurologic exam, getting labs, neuroimaging—typically that is how we had diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.”

Tan said that when he evaluates a patient for the disease, using the blood tests—which are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration to diagnose Alzheimer’s—is not the first step.

“I’ll ask them whether they have symptoms, whether they have functional losses or difficulty maintaining their social function, etcetera,” he told Fischman and Lewis. “If they have none of these, I will probably do a cognitive test, and if they pass with flying colors, I would say let’s just wait and see.”

Click here to listen to the entire episode of “Your Health, Quickly” from Scientific American.