The New York Time’s New Old Age (NOA) blog explains:
The Times reports this morning that for the first time in 27 years, Alzheimer’s disease is being redefined in new medical guidelines reflecting mounting evidence that the disease ravages the brain years before symptoms of dementia appear.
Over time, the new diagnostic criteria are likely to have a powerful impact on caregiving families coping with Alzheimer’s. “We’re redefining Alzheimer’s disease and looking at this in a different way than had ever been done,” said Creighton Phelps, director of the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program. “I think we’re going to start to identify it earlier and earlier.”
The guidelines, to be issued Tuesday by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association, divide the disease into three stages: a phase when dementia has developed, a middle phase in which mild problems emerge but daily functions can still be performed, and the most recently discovered phase, in which no symptoms are evident but changes are brewing in the brain….
The drive to diagnose Alzheimer’s before it has progressed into profound dementia is also reflected in a bill introduced in Congress this month, which would create specific Medicare cost codes for Alzheimer’s diagnosis, including steps involving discussions between the patient’s doctor and caregivers, a recognition that keeping family members well-informed can result in better planning and care.
“Early diagnosis is really the key to this,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a sponsor of the bill. “Oftentimes family members notice the symptoms in their loved ones, but it’s only years later that they get diagnosed or understand what resources are available.”
Read the full story, “Guidelines Allow Earlier Definition of Alzheimer’s.
As Rep. Markey rightly notes, these guidelines will have a profound impact in helping family members find and access resources for Alzheimer’s treatment. This is a major shift from the status quo that has long been championed by Alzheimer’s advocates.
For example, the director of Maryland’s Alzheimer’s Association, Cass Naugle, helped build an early-detection program in Maryland that lead to securing disability benefits that had previously been denied people diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Cass conducted her Master’s capstone project on this effort in one of the first graduate classes at UMBC’s Erickson School, where Dr. Bill Thomas teaches.