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Updating U.S. Guidelines for Alzheimer’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJanuary 1, 2018

There are an estimated 5.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and research shows that twice as many may be living with the disease but showing no symptoms. Alzheimer’s is the third leading cause of death among seniors and is the only disease in the top 10 causes of death with no treatment or cure.

Even more shocking than the statistics above, is that obtaining an accurate Alzheimer’s diagnosis is still problematic. Learn more about why Alzheimer’s often goes undetected and why the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association have proposed new diagnostic criteria and guidelines for Alzheimer’s.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is Problematic

Many cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia go undetected and undiagnosed each year. This trend, along with the shocking number of projected dementia cases in the future, has led the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association (NIA-AA) to propose a new set of guidelines for Alzheimer’s.

Until now, doctors have diagnosed dementia based on data from a clinical evaluation including cognitive tests, blood work, a neurological exam, PET scans and reports of an individual’s symptoms.

However, the outcome of these tests could lead to more than one diagnosis, confusing treatment options and care for the patient.

The New Year Calls for New Guidelines for Alzheimer’s

The new guidelines for Alzheimer’s proposed by the NIA-AA have three separate stages defined by the presence of biomarkers: preclinical Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s and dementia due to Alzheimer’s.

Research shows that biomarkers of Alzheimer’s are often present before symptoms and this is the first time that a staging system for Alzheimer’s has been proposed using such biomarkers.

1. Preclinical Alzheimer’s

People with preclinical Alzheimer’s have not yet developed symptoms of the disease, like memory loss, but may exhibit significant changes in the brain, cerebrospinal fluid and/or blood biomarkers. Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s can begin in the brain 20 years before symptoms occur.

2. MCI Due to Alzheimer’s

People with mild cognitive impairment usually exhibit small but noticeable changes in cognitive ability that are apparent to others. Their symptoms are not severe enough to impact daily life.

3. Dementia Due to Alzheimer’s

This is the third and final stage in the disease classification. People with dementia due to Alzheimer’s have significant behavioral, cognitive and memory changes that affect daily life.

There is, however, still more work to be done in understanding risk factors for Alzheimer’s and how biomarkers may help identify individuals at risk of the disease.

What do you think about the proposed changes to guidelines for Alzheimer’s in the U.S.? Would this help detect the disease earlier in some individuals? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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