Today the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association released new diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer's disease that outline how the disease progresses in distinct phases, the earliest of which is undetectable without a brain scan.
The guidelines, the first to be released since shortly after our Glenner Centers opened in the early 1980s, now include a precursor phase in which the amyloid protein begins to lump together in the brain. Our founder, the late Dr. George G. Glenner, was a UCSD researcher who helped discover the beta amyloid protein's link to Alzheimer's disease.
The newly recognized "preclinical stage" develops into mild cognitive impairment, which we've discussed on this blog before (and no doubt will again ... and again because it's highly important to those trying to stay mentally fit and to recognize symptoms in others). This stage of the disease shows mild memory loss, and some with MCI never advance to full-blown dementia.
Earlier guidelines released in 1984 only recognized the dementia stage of Alzheimer's, in which severe memory impairment eventually impedes a person's ability to care for themselves. By now including two earlier stages, it not only will help researchers move drug research and treatments in a new direction, but it also means many people develop the disease earlier in life than first realized, when they typically are at the peak of their careers and still raising families.
There's much to ponder with today's news. And much to be hopeful for since new drug treatments focused on brain activity earlier in the disease may prove more successful than those that have been developed for full-blown dementia.
Here's just some of the media outlets writing about today's release:
ABC News: Criteria for Early Alzheimer's Diagnosis Expanded
U.S. News & World Report: Alzheimer's Cases Could Double With New Guidelines
Washington Post: Guidelines Call for Diagnosing Early Alzheimer's