For now, the system is intended only for research settings said Dr. Jack, an Alzheimer’s investigator at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. But as biomarker testing comes of age and new less-expensive markers are discovered, the paradigm will likely be incorporated into clinical practice. The process can begin even now with a simple change in the way doctors talk to patients about Alzheimer’s, he said in an interview.
“We advocate people stop using the terms ‘probable or possible AD.’ A better term is ‘Alzheimer’s clinical syndrome.’ Without biomarkers, the clinical syndrome is the only thing you can know. What you can’t know is whether they do or don’t have Alzheimer’s disease. When I’m asked by physicians, ‘What do I tell my patients now?’ my very direct answer is ‘Tell them the truth.’ And the truth is that they have Alzheimer’s clinical syndrome and may or may not have Alzheimer’s disease.”
A reflection of evolving science
The research framework reflects advances in Alzheimer’s science that have occurred since the NIA lastit AD diagnostic criteria in 2011. Those criteria divided the disease continuum into three phases largely based on cognitive symptoms, but were the first to recognize a presymptomatic AD phase.
- Preclinical: Brain changes, including amyloid buildup and other nerve cell changes already may be in progress but significant clinical symptoms are not yet evident.
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI): A stage marked by symptoms of memory and/or other thinking problems that are greater than normal for a person’s age and education but that do not interfere with his or her independence. MCI may or may not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia.
- Alzheimer’s dementia: The final stage of the disease in which the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss, word-finding difficulties, and visual/spatial problems, are significant enough to impair a person’s ability to function independently.