A recent article in the New York Timessaid for the first time in 25 years, the medical community is looking to change the criteria for Alzheimer's disease as part of a new movement to diagnose and treat the disease earlier. The guidelines, presented by the National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer's Association, could be adopted as soon as this fall.
I think this is great news because currently, Alzheimer's disease is only diagnosed when it is full-blown. The criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease are the steady progression of dementia, memory loss and an inability to carry out day-to-day activities. Then, it is only confirmed after death when a pathologist reports finding plaque and other abnormalities in the brain.
Researchers believe that people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease have a prodromal phase that may start 10 years prior to the onset of symptoms. We currently have biomarkers such as MRIs, spinal taps and PET scans that could - along with a physical exam - help identify patients with early symptoms of disease. There are new classes of drugs being manufactured to help delay the onset of Alzheimer's that patients could benefit from if they are diagnosed early enough.
I want to be clear that we still don't have a cure for Alzheimer's disease, and there is still no fool-proof test for early diagnosis. However, these new guidelines have the potential to critically change the way patients are identified, and hopefully, improve their quality of life.
Critics may argue that these new guidelines could lead to unnecessary testing that will ultimately drive up costs and promote fear among those diagnosed before symptoms start to show. However, when you're dealing with a disease as devastating as Alzheimer's which affects 5.3 million Americans - as well as their loved ones, we must continue to push forward in our quest for a cure.