New Guidelines Announced for Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

July 2010

Researchers are now focusing on the accumulation of clumps of a protein called amyloid which occurs in the brain.  This occurs about 10 years before dementia sets in and is viewed as the best place to intervene in the disease.  New imaging agents for PET scans, spinal fluid tests and other tests can also help to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and are becoming very important.  These protein deposits are referred to as biomarkers and can be tracked by brain scans, blood and spinal fluid tests.

Three medical expert panels put together by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association suggest that Alzheimer’s should be diagnosed in three stages  advanced disease, mild disease and, the new category, called preclinical disease. “These experts understand that the disease begins many years before dementia,” says Dr. Reisa Sperling of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.  Many researchers believe most Alzheimer’s drugs have failed because they were tried in people whose disease was too far advanced.

Home health nurses perform an assessment of each patient at the start of  home care. The home care nurse will not only analyze the physical condition of the patient, but asses their competence in performing activities of daily living.  It is noted if the patient is confused or does not understand basic instruction, or appears impaired mentally.  These could be early signs of Alzheimer’s and follow up treatment by the primary care physician can be suggested.

Health professionals are now classifying stages of Alzheimer’s as they would for many prevalent diseases such as cancer, heart disease and kidney disease which are all diagnosed on the basis of tests, even before symptoms appear.  Identifying dementia early can cut the cost of care by nearly 30% said researchers on July 11th, 2010.  Similarly, home health care is much more cost efficient than putting an Alzheimer’s patient with the beginning symptoms of the disease, in a nursing home.

Treatments for patients with a disposition for Alzheimer’s are expanding. Antioxidants neutralize unstable forms of oxygen called reactive oxygen species that can damage cells throughout the body.  The brain is an area of high metabolic activity, so is vulnerable to accumulating oxidative damage over a lifetime.  Higher vitamin E intake is tied to lower dementia risk, but is not proven to have an affect on Alzheimer’s.  Antioxidants like vitamins E and C and beta carotene might help stave off dementia because it is believed that their actions might interfere with the process of brain-cell degeneration.  It is recommended that one consult with their physician before taking any vitamins to understand the best dosages and how they may interact with existing medication.

The consensus is that a thorough examination can identify signs of dementia that may be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.  A healthy lifestyle and preventative diet can also aide in keeping  Alzheimer’s risk low.

The difference between Alzheimer’s and typical age-related changes:

Signs of Alzheimer’s Typical age-related changes
Poor judgment and decision making Making a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the season Forgetting which day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time