The national guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease have been updated for the first time in nearly 30 years.
They now include three stages of disease progression. The first stage includes slight changes in the brain with no discernable effect. The second occurs as mild cognitive impairment sets in while the third is full-blown Alzheimer’s.
The guidelines discuss new technologies such as brain scans and blood tests that can help identify risk factors for the disease. So far, however, they recommend they be used in clinical trials for those with mild cognitive impairment because the technology isn’t ready for widespread diagnostic use yet.
“This idea that we are somehow going to identify a new class of people and label them as being sick, it really just isn’t going to happen,” said Bill Thies, chief medical officer with the Alzheimer’s Association.
Until there is a cure for the disease, Thies said there won’t be push to test people.
Now, scientists don’t even know if it helps or hurts people with mild cognitive impairment to know if they have the Alzheimer’s gene.
“This is actually a very new area of study for individuals that have mild cognitive impairment,” said Beth Wood, genetic counselor with the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at the University of Pennsylvania. “We don’t know at this point whether people want a detailed risk estimate for the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
Wood is involved with a new study looking at how knowing one carries the Alzheimer’s gene affects patients with mild cognitive impairment.