Updated Diagnostic Methods

Suggestions have been issued by the good experts from the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging regarding how the diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease might be updated. These criteria represent the only such update over the past 26 years.

Chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, William Thies, PhD said that the last time diagnostic criteria were developed for confirming the disease occurred in 1984. Thies says that the medical community knows much more than ever about Alzheimer’s disease and that the new recommendations come out of this knowledge.

Three Stages

The new diagnostic criteria were presented in Honolulu at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. It is hoped that these new criteria will lead to earlier and more accurate detection of Alzheimer’s disease. These criteria cover the three broad stages that are now believed to represent the course of Alzheimer’s. These stages include pre-clinical Alzheimer’s, followed by mild cognitive impairment, and finally: Alzheimer’s dementia.

A neurologist and the director of the Washington University, St. Louis-based Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, John Morris, MD reminded the press of the old medical maxim that Alzheimer’s could only be confirmed after death. Morris was a working member of the group who came up with the new criteria. The physician tells us that today there are brain pathology indicators that can be detected in the still-living Alzheimer’s patient.

Imaging Studies

These biomarkers are seen during imaging studies. Perhaps the most promising diagnostic imaging for this purpose is amyloid imaging. Beta-amyloid is believed to be associated with Alzheimer’s and manifests as a microscopic fragment of protein, found in the brain.

Morris says that today there are also the spinal fluid biomarkers. Biomarkers, in general are a significant scientific advance for the study of this for now, fatal disease.

The experts who developed the update on Alzheimer’s diagnostic criteria hail from the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association as well as from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The idea to create the new criteria began 8 months ago at a meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association, said Thies. Experts in the field of Alzheimer’s disease were approached to help create these updated criteria.

The experts separated into three workgroups, each representing one of the three stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The workgroup for the first, pre-clinical stage of the disease, for instance, suggests that we think of Alzheimer’s disease as a brain disorder that begins years before the symptoms of dementia manifest.

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