August 23, 2021 | The New York Times

Seeking Early Signals of Dementia in Driving and Credit Scores

From The New York Times:

For now, the search for older people who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias takes place mostly in research settings, where patients learn their risk status through some combination of genetic testing, spinal taps or PET scans to detect amyloid in the brain, as well as through questions about family history.

“It’s all about finding people soon enough to intervene and prevent or delay the onset of the disease,” said Emily Largent, a medical ethicist and health policy researcher at the Penn Memory Center in Philadelphia, which undertakes many such studies.

Other kinds of predictive tests are on the horizon, including over-the-counter blood tests for tau, another Alzheimer’s biomarker, but are several years away, Dr. Largent said.


IBM researchers have picked up elevated risk in writing tests, finding that word patterns and usage predicted later Alzheimer’s diagnoses. Any of these findings might, one day, be used for early screening.

Such approaches raise concerns about privacy, however. “Are people comfortable with a bank or an auto insurance company having and communicating that information?” Dr. Largent asked. “It becomes medical information in the hands of people who are not physicians.”

At the Penn Memory Center, where information is indeed in health professionals’ hands, “some people who are cognitively unimpaired, after testing in the clinic, indicate they’d like to be monitored,” she said. “Others find that unbelievably intrusive.”

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