July 14th, 2010
11:05 AM ET

How Alzheimer's gets diagnosed may change

Scientists are seeking to revamp the way that Alzheimer's disease gets diagnosed, for the first time in 25 years.

Since the current criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer's were put forth in 1984, they have been in wide use and virtually unchanged, despite scientific advances  in the last two decades.

The proposed criteria, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease 2010 on Tuesday, would better reflect the various stages of the disease, as well as the Alzheimer's disease biomarkers that have been developed, said the Alzheimer's Association's chief medical and scientific officer William Thies in a statement. Biomarkers indicate signs of Alzheimer's in the brain and can be found with  MRI scans, PET imaging  and tests of cerebrospinal fluid.

According to the New York Times, that means that even people without obvious symptoms such as memory problems could have brain scans and other tests to detect signs of Alzheimer's.

Some experts predict that the number of people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's will double or even triple, if these guidelines go into effect, the Times reported. Drug companies developing drugs to combat Alzheimer's could also benefit from the changes, the paper said.

The advances that Alzheimer's research has seen since 1984 include the recognition of changes in the brain driven by Alzheimer's - but also that some people don't show symptoms of dementia even though they have these brain changes, the Alzheimer's Association said. Also, scientists did not have a good understanding of non-Alzheimer's dementia in 1984; today, there is greater knowledge of other kinds of dementia.

After the conference, the National Institutes on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association will seek feedback through this website. Then, the guidelines would have to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and validated through clinical trials.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Bob DeMarco

    The Alzheimer's Reading Room has clear, concise, usable news, research, insight and advice for the entire Alzheimer's community.

    100 Million Americans have been touched by Alzheimer's Disease, 35 million are worried about Alzheimer's Disease.


    July 14, 2010 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. mabel floyd

    i watched my mom deal with this horrible disease for 25 years–she was non-verbal the last few years. my mom was well educated, caring and giving women. slowlly this terrible disease stole who she was. the light left her eyes and she become someone without a past or future. when God finally allowed her to die i was so happy for her-she could now go to the next life and become whole again. how i pray we can eliminate this horrible disease.

    July 14, 2010 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daughter of Mom with Alzheimer's

      I too watched my Mom slowly be taken away from us. My Mom was only 56 years old when this disease struck.
      Its criminal to watch someone that young deteriorate so quickly. She was only 60 when she died.
      I too agree with Mabel, it was a blessing for her.
      Please support research to end this disease!

      July 15, 2010 at 07:19 | Report abuse |
  3. pop

    my grandmother died from it and it devastated all in the family. my mom lives with the panic of getting it and i am sure that I'll kill myself the day I'm diagnosed with it as i don't want that suffering for my husband, children and those close to me. it's a horrible horrible disease that makes as much damage on the inflicted as on those around him. the day someone cures it should be as important as Christmas.

    July 15, 2010 at 07:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. admiral 149

    My wife has this disease. She is 58 years old and was diagnosed three years ago. We noticed some memory problems as early as 5 years ago. Current drug therapy does not seem to make any change in her prognosis. Screening for this disease always begins when a crisis forces a family to seek an answer for some huge mistake. In our case it was not paying taxes. I mention this only because concealment of this disease makes early detection almost impossible. The patient's mind is compensating for the brain injury. All we can do is love these people with all our heart just the way they are today, and pray that someday there will be treatment for this horrible disease.

    July 15, 2010 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. angryStudent

    "Since the current criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer's were put forth in 1984, they have been in wide use and virtually unchanged, despite scientific advances in the last two decades."

    What? You think Biochemistry, radiation studies, chemical engeneering, and neurology is easy? Let's see what great contribution you've made for the world? Oh wait, nothing. There's a reason so few make it to the point of doctor, and even fewer make it to the point where there research shows true meaning which can be used to help change the very outlook on science. Research takes time, especially with restrictions on testing, and gathering specific data for accuracy. Cleary you've never taken a general science class in your entire life; that or you forgot this is what people have learn for a living.

    July 15, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Julia Nunn

    Angry Student, I think you have chosen to take way more offense than was intended by the remark. You can't really change the truth that diagnostic methods for Alzheimer's have not changed a whole lot. This was stated with no prejudice, just as a fact. No one is saying that biochemistry (one assumes this is your discipline by the capitals) is easy. Neither is ditch digging, cooking, or (I hope you always remember this) nursing. Almost every job has its drawbacks and difficulties, and this reporter was not attacking yours. We do need updates in diagnostic methods, the sooner the better, and I think most people do realize how difficult a task that is for the scientists and medical practictioners involved.

    July 15, 2010 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ryan

    Just changing the criteria won't do much if the tests cannot be done. Screening for biomarkers in the brain would be great if doctors could get the tests paid for and if radiologists everywhere knew how to do the test routinely. ANd it would be even better if once diagnosed there were better treatment options. The current medications have modest benefits at best.

    July 15, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Bonnie

    So, lately we have been encouraged to prepare ourselves for the future through the purchase of long-term care insurance, which can be a significant, though worthwhile, expense. I want to prepare for the future in any way that I can, but I am hesitant to take a test that will give me information, but will give my insurance carrier an excuse to raise my rates so high that to act responsibly by purchasing long term care insurance will be impossible.

    July 16, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.