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New blood test to help diagnose Alzheimer's comes with a caveat

The new test is not approved by the FDA and is not supported by the Alzheimer's Association. But advocates are encouraged by the research.

SEATTLE — The telltale symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are mental decline, confusion, and forgetfulness — the hallmarks of an illness that nearly 5 million Americans live with, in which there is no cure. 

However, today there is news in the fight against it.

C2N Diagnostics out of St. Louis has created a blood test that reads the levels of the protein beta-amyloid in a person's body. Beta-amyloid is found in the plaque that grows on the brains of people with Alzheimer's. 

Right now, the blood test is only available to those age 60 and older with symptoms of dementia. Before, only a costly PET scan or lumbar puncture could tell if a person has Alzheimer's disease.

But C2N's test comes with a caveat.

"This new test doesn't actually diagnose Alzheimer's disease, it really assesses the likelihood that someone has the disease," said Carrie McBride, director of marketing and communications with the Washington chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. 

While this is promising technology, the Alzheimer's Association isn't coming out in support of it. 

"This blood test is not approved by the FDA and it's really only been tested in a very limited number of individuals at this time," McBride said. 

Even so, McBride says the fact that these avenues are being explored is exciting. If an early diagnosis blood test could be developed and approved — which the Alzheimer's Association has been funding research for — that could give patients the precious gift of time.

"That's so valuable to people who are facing Alzheimer's, or really any kind of dementia. It gives you time to plan for the future, make legal and financial plans, care plans, to build a network of support, to participate in clinical trials," McBride said. 

C2N's blood test is only available through health care providers so ask your doctor if you are interested.