By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — More than five million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

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“Memory problems, language problems, are kind of the first things that people tend to notice,” says Carol Schramke, a neuropsychologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

Right now, there’s only one conclusive test.

“The only way we know for sure, and particularly early on, is to do an autopsy or biopsy. And no one wants to volunteer for either of those things,” she says.

But there may be a less extreme way, according to a study published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Researchers say they’ve created a blood test that allows them to identify people with Alzheimer’s. The new technique looks for patterns of light certain proteins in the blood make.

When combined with certain genetic tests, it has up to an 86 percent sensitivity and specificity, which means it’s good at detecting the disease and truly pinpoints the disease.

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It could turn out to be an expensive test for a condition that does not have a cure, and does not have treatments dramatically changing the ultimate outcome. But it could be useful in other ways.

“This is a disease that probably developing over many years, perhaps even decades before people become symptomatic. So if we can identify the people who are at higher risk, we can start doing some interventions, whether that’s a medication treatment, or behavioral changes, to see if that has much of an impact on who goes on to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Schramke explains.

Currently, doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s based on a variety of factors, including brain scans and in-depth mental testing.

Current treatments include medicines to slow the progression, and lifestyle changes, such as a diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“Your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is lower if you get more education, if you’re physically, mentally, and socially more active,” she adds.

The new blood test is intended to help with diagnosis, monitor progression, and guide treatment, also the possibility to diagnose injury in athletes.

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You can’t get the blood test yet. It’s still in the early stages of development, and will need longer and larger studies to validate the results.

Dr. Maria Simbra