The National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association announced new guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease before it turns into full blown dementia. For the first time ever, the guidelines include brain imaging tests that clearly show Alzheimer's contributes to an individual’s mental decline. The new guidelines aim to identify the disease even earlier, proving it attacks the brain over a period of ten years, before external signs are visible.
The tests conducted use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and position emission tomography (PMT) as well as examine spinal tap fluid. The tests will reveal ‘plaques’ made up of a protein called amyloid and tau which are key determinants of Alzheimer’s.
The new guidelines compartmentalize Alzheimer’s into three stages: preclinical Alzheimer's – individuals with specific brain changes, but no obvious symptoms; mild cognitive impairment – mental decline is obvious, but individuals are still able to maintain independence; and lastly, Alzheimer’s dementia – which is the latest stages of the disease.
Unfortunately there are still not any therapies that can change the course of the disease, but there are things families and patients can do to minimize the impact of Alzheimer's disease. Structuring the patient’s environment, healthy exercise, diet and getting proper medical care are all important steps that need to be taken. Gary Kennedy, M.D., Director of psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center says, “We can’t really modify the disease, but we can push back the disability.”
These new guidelines aim to help scientists predict the biological changes that cause Alzheimer's and develop drugs to fight it. The director of Johns Hopkins Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Marilyn Albert, said, “We believe that it's critically important, when we do have more effective drugs, to intervene as early as possible".