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Researchers: Prevention by intervention key to Alzheimer's

Airing on Thursday (5/11) at 6 p.m., KOMO's Molly Shen follows a local woman who's being tested for Alzheimer's, and takes an in-depth look at how UW’s ten-minute test could help millions.

SEATTLE -- Researchers at the University of Washington are on the cusp of something very exciting.

The team at Alzheimer's Research Center at the University of Washington (ADRC) is developing a ten-minute test they say could help millions, and cut Alzheimer's dementia in half.

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and there are more than five million Americans living with the disease today, statistics from Alzheimer's Association show.

No cure has been found for the disease, and there are no treatments that can slow, or stop its progression.

What causes Alzheimer's disease?

Dementia is a broad term used to describe memory loss, gaps in memory that are serious enough to disrupt daily life. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, and is caused by damage in brain cells.

Thinking, behavior, and feelings can all be affected when damaged brain cells aren't communicating normally, Alzheimer's Association states.

Most damage is permanent, and worsens overtime.

Who gets the disease, and how do they know?

Researchers at the UW say the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer's is aging. The majority of people suffering from the disease are 65 years and older, but there are hundreds of thousands under the age of 65 who have younger onset, or early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging, though it's sometimes confused as such. While there's no one test to determine if someone has the disease, doctors are able to make a diagnosis based of symptoms and medical history.

It can take months to get a diagnosis, and often times doctors will ask to repeat the evaluation in six to 12 months to confirm the progression.

Memory loss is the primary symptom, but individuals can also lose a wide range of intellectual abilities, like carrying on a conversation.

UW researchers say people live an average of 8 years after their symptoms become noticeable to others. Survival with the disease can range from three to 20 years, depending on age and health.

How is it treated?

With no cure, and no way to slow or stop the progression available, doctors are only treating symptoms.

Current treatments, UW researchers say, can temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with the disease and their caregivers.

Researchers say they are on the verge of a breakthrough, and believe in the future, the key to treatment will be prevention.

Clinical trials are already underway that show promising results to doctors.

Why is prevention important?

Doctors have discovered that Alzheimer's affects the brain long before - up to 15 years in some cases - symptoms appear. Catching the disease early would give doctors more time to track and study the changes taking place, offering more clues into how to stop the progression.

Shen spent time with doctors, clinicians, and researchers at UW Medicine. On Thursday at 6 p.m., Shen follows a local woman who's being tested for Alzheimer's, and takes an in-depth look at how UW’s ten-minute test could help millions.

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