New research on Alzheimer’s disease could lead to earlier diagnosis

A new definition of Alzheimer’s disease could help more people be diagnosed earlier.

Doctors have proposed basing the diagnosis on signs such as brain changes, rather than symptoms such as memory loss. Currently, health care providers test for the disease indirectly by looking at a person’s medical history and running basic lab work and scans.

Recently published findings suggest more intense scans would show signs of Alzheimer’s 15 to 20 years before symptoms appear.

“By the time a person starts showing signs or symptoms of Alzheimer’s [disease], they have a large burden of the disease already, and it’s probably too late for a lot of medications,” said Dr. Thomas Loepfe, chair of the Geriatrics Department at Mayo Clinic Health System.

About one-third of people over 70 who show no thinking problems actually have brain signs that suggest Alzheimer’s disease according to the research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Experts said it is too soon to incorporate the use of brain scans and other tests into routine care because they have not been validated for that purpose. The cost of completing the advanced scans is also very expensive.