Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Step Down The Road

As cautiously as this NY Times article is phrased, I still got excited at the news that scientists and clinicians are considering changes in the way Alzheimer's is diagnosed. Technically speaking, up to this point the only time a formal diagnosis of the disease can be made is after death when an autopsy shows the tangled web in the brain known as plaque. That's not much help for the victims, and it certainly isn't much help for the researchers looking for ways to halt the progress of the disease. Now, thanks to advances in the ways we can look at the brain, the disease can be tracked far earlier, modifying ways we can actually treat the disease, and, hopefully someday, ameliorate the symptoms.

The current formal criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer’s require steadily progressing dementia — memory loss and an inability to carry out day-to-day activities, like dressing or bathing — along with a pathologist’s report of plaque and another abnormality, known as tangles, in the brain after death.

But researchers are now convinced that the disease is present a decade or more before dementia.

“Our thinking has changed dramatically,” said Dr. Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of one of the groups formulating the new guidelines. “We now view dementia as a late stage in the process.” ...

“Over all, I think this is a giant step in the right direction,” said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatry professor and Alzheimer’s disease researcher at Duke University who was not involved with making the guidelines. “It moves us closer to the cause of the disease rather than just looking at symptoms.”
[Emphasis added]

Of course, one of the problems with the proposed changes under consideration is the expensive testing that will be required. The various types of brain scans which will be used are costly, but, then, so is the management of the disease in its end stages. Tracking the development of the disease at the early stages will enable researchers a more complete picture of just what is going on in the patient's brain, which should lead to more effective and earlier intervention.

Just as important, however, is that an earlier diagnosis gives the patient and the family of the patient an opportunity to make the plans necessary to cope with the progress of the disease as it takes its toll. Knowing, I have discovered, is much better than not knowing.

All things considered, I think this is good news.



Anonymous paula said...

I agree that it's better to know, than not know, although I don't look forward to taking the test or getting the results.

5:48 AM  
Blogger shrimplate said...

As a nurse I have long suspected that there was "something wrong" with persons well before their Alzheimer's became fully manifest. I would love to see it treated early.

4:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home