PHOENIX -- The FDA recently approved an injectable dye that can help doctors determine if a protein associated with Alzheimer's disease has built up in a patient's brain.
Dr. Benjamin Seltzer, the director of the Center for Alzheimer's Disease and Cognitive Disorders at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, sat down with 3TV's Kaley O'Kelly to explain how this new test works and what it could mean for the future.
"For the first time, we're actually able to visualize what we think is the most important feature in this disease," he said.
Being able to see that protein, amyloid, allows doctors to be more precise in their diagnoses.
"If a scan shows that a person with memory impairment has amyloid buildup in their brain, this increases the likelihood that the memory impairment is caused by Alzheimer's disease," according to the Alzheimer's Association's statement on the FDA's approval of the radioactive dye.
"This test will allow us to see who is most at risk for Alzheimer's disease so that we can start treatment early," Seltzer continued.
The most common cause of dementia in adults, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Right now, it cannot be prevented or cured.
While current treatments can slow the worsening of symptoms and improve quality of life for patients and their families, Alzheimer's is a progressive disease. Nothing can stop the deterioration in the brain that is the hallmark of of Alzheimer's.
If that doesn't change soon, if new treatments are not developed and perfected, doctors say Alzheimer's could be come a national epidemic.
To that end, Seltzer said researchers are looking for ways to "treat the disease before it actually begins."
"What we're working on now are treatments that will get at the root of the disease," Seltzer explained. "We're most interested in being able to do it at the earlier possible time. that's why this test is so important."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.4 million American are living with Alzheimer's disease.
10 warning signs of Alzheimer's (from Alz.org)
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty complete familiar task at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time of place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality