Patients may soon know they have Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms ever appear, thanks to advances in diagnostic technology that will enable physicians to pinpoint the disease much earlier. New pharmaceutical treatments are undergoing clinical trials that could potentially stop progression of the disease at early stages. In response, the Alzheimer’s Association, in conjunction with the National Institute on Aging, proposed new criteria that would break Alzheimer’s disease into three distinct stages: pre-clinical Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s dementia. This update would mark the first time in 25 years the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease have been changed.
Scientists presented their initial recommendations at the 2010 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, held in Hawaii in July. The proposed criteria would utilize biomarkers and other clinical assessments to detect asymptomatic early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, as well as identify those at high risk for developing the disease.
The latest report from the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. The disease is most common among persons age 65 and older, with an estimated 13 percent of individuals in this age group suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. New diagnostic criteria would drastically increase these figures, but also pave the way for more effective treatments.
Currently, a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is only possible post-mortem, when the patient’s brain can be examined to determine the presence of the telltale plagues specific to the disease. Subjective diagnoses are currently based on a patient’s presentation of symptoms, which often don’t appear until the disease is already well underway. The ability to diagnose the disease prior to the onset of symptoms could allow physicians to prescribe treatments that could actually alter the course of the disease, should these treatments receive FDA-approval.
About the Author:
Chris Rodde is the CEO of SeniorHomes.com, a free resource for people looking for senior housing or senior care for a loved one or themselves that provides a comprehensive directory of care options including assisted living, independent living, Alzheimer’s care, a retirement community or home care.