Alzheimer’s Disease has become a major topic of discussion in the US. With an increase in the number of cases (every 69 seconds someone new is diagnosed with AD in the US) and the rise in age-related health care costs, there has been a push for more research and better diagnostic tools. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and it is now the number 6 cause of death in the US. In April, the National Institute on Aging along with the Alzheimer’s Association released updated guidelines for diagnosing the disease. This is the first revision to happen in 27 years. The guidelines now include categories for earlier stages of the disease. The categories include a pre-clinical phase where changes in the brain like a build-up of amyloids are detected on a PET scan or in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). However, detection of these biomarkers is not a guarantee that AD symptoms will develop. These biomarkers are still being studied so this phase is designated for a research setting.
The second phase is pre-dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This stage occurs when an individual experiences gradual, progressive cognitive decline due to the accumulation of AD pathology in the brain. The new diagnostic tools will aid doctors in diagnosing MCI due to AD in any clinical setting without the use of specialized tests and procedures.
The third phase is Alzheimer’s dementia. The criteria for this phase of the disease is used by doctors to determine the causes and progression of the patient’s cognitive decline. They also expand beyond memory loss to other areas of cognition like visual-spatial skills, word recall, and reasoning skills.
Can these new diagnostic guidelines be helpful to patients?
There is a lot of fear surrounding this disease. In fact, surveys show that people fear getting Alzheimer’s Disease more than cancer. So, for some people “ignorance is bliss” making an early diagnosis undesirable. Although AD is not curable and cannot be prevented, in some cases you can delay the onset of symptoms and slow the disease’s affect. This means that an early clinical diagnosis could be beneficial.
• Medication can be used to treat symptoms and behaviors like memory loss, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
• Building up your cognitive reserve can help as well. Cognitive reserve is like a buffer that can shield you from the progression of decline. You strengthen it by keeping the brain stimulated through activities that use novelty, complexity and variety.
• Symptoms such as memory loss or confusion can be attributed to other conditions, so it is important to determine if other medical factors need to be addressed. Such issues can be caused by thyroid problems, sleep disorders, severe stress, drug interactions and vitamin deficiencies, and can be reversed. For more information about treatment and support, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website, www.alz.org. For recommendations on activities to strengthen your cognitive reserve, visit our website, marblesthebrainstore.com or come to one of our stores and speak with one of our brain coaches.
What do you think?
Seeking a diagnosis and treatment is a very personal and emotional decision. If you began to experience some mild cognitive changes like memory loss or difficulty thinking, would you want to find out what is causing it right away or would you delay finding out?
•M.S. Albert et al.,The Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment Due to Alzheimer’s Disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association workgroup.Alzheimer’s & Dementia. (2011) 1–10.
•G.M. McKhann et al., The diagnosis of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease:
Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association workgroup. Alzheimer’s & Dementia.(2011) 1–7.
•NIH News. (2011). Alzheimer’s diagnostic guidelines updated for first time in decades. [Press Release]Retrieved from http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2011/nia-19.htm.
•R.A. Sperling et al. , Toward defining the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association workgroup.Alzheimer’s & Dementia.(2011) 1–13.