New definition of Alzheimer s disease proposed

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An international team of Alzheimer’s disease experts have proposed a new framework for diagnosing the disease earlier in its course that doesn’t require the patient to suffer from full-blown dementia. Instead, the patients must suffer “episodic memory impairment” and have at least one positive biomarker — either found in the cerebrospinal fluid, or on special radiological tests — for the disease.

The scientists write in The Lancet Neurology that the broader definition of Alzheimer’s would enable patients to be enrolled in clinical trials earlier, aiding researchers in developing treatments for the disease.

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan says this sounds like a good idea. “I think it’s pretty well established that if you try to treat patients with full-blown Alzheimer’s, you’re banging your head against a wall. The brain change is so advanced that it’s unlikely any drug will be able to work. You have to catch this early.”

Enrolling patients without full-blown dementia in Alzheimer’s trials for a drug that may or may not work would have to be done delicately, says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “But it has to be done if we’re going to make any inroads into this terrible disease, which without an advance in early treatment, is only going to get worse as our population ages.”