Biomarkers play role in new Alzheimer's diagnosis guidelines

The past month has seen some progress for those who follow Alzheimer's research. For the first time in nearly three decades, national guidelines for diagnosis of Alzheimer's have been updated to include what we now know about the early stages of the degenerative disease. And they also reflect new information about the role biomarkers can play in early detection. The news piggybacks on an announcement in early April that researchers have identified five more genes thought to be responsible for Alzheimer's.

The new guidelines, from the National Institute on Aging, now take into account the use of imaging and biomarkers that may help determine whether changes in the brain and body fluids are caused by Alzheimer's disease. The guidelines reflect a new understanding that biomarkers can detect onset and progression of disease, even though they still need to be validated by further testing.

"Alzheimer's research has greatly evolved over the past quarter of a century. Bringing the diagnostic guidelines up to speed with those advances is both a necessary and rewarding effort that will benefit patients and accelerate the pace of research," National Institute on Aging Director Richard J. Hodes said in a news release.

The guidelines reflect the extensive research that has gone on since the original 1984 clinical criteria for Alzheimer's, which was based only on single-stage symptoms of dementia. Now, three distinct stages have been identified and named in the new guidelines: preclinical, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia. Biomarkers play a role in determining diagnoses at all three stages.

- read more in the release from the National Institute on Aging

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