Critter Corner: New Guidelines Are Being Proposed for Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

Dear Raider,

I read somewhere that someone will soon be able to receive a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s even if they have no symptoms or family history of the disease. How will this work?

Thanks for your help!

Diane Ganosis

Dear Diane,

According to new diagnostic criteria discussed at the 2023 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2023), someone in their 30s or 40s who has high levels of beta-amyloid or tau in their blood could be labeled as having Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s why: Similar to some other diseases, Alzheimer’s has evolved from clinical observations and symptoms into one characterized by specific biological features — protein plaques and inflammation. “Instead of calling Alzheimer’s a disease where you forget your glasses and keys and repeat yourself, now we’re defining it by inflammation, amyloid, and tau . . . it’s a profound change to our field,” says Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, a clinician and professor of neurology at the Barrow Neurological Institute.
The new definition presented at AAIC 2023 focuses on biomarkers, making it possible for someone to receive a diagnosis even if they have no symptoms or family history of the disease — provided they test positive for these biomarkers.

“There’s continuing evidence that biomarkers can explain the natural history of the disease,” Jason Karlawish, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He added that the success of Leqembi further validated these biomarkers — the anti-amyloid treatment that slowed the progression of the disease by lowering the levels of beta-amyloid plaques.

Both Dr. Sabbagh and Dr. Karlawish foresee that blood tests will make their way into clinical practice within the next few years, allowing more people to get a fast, affordable diagnosis. And, with a diagnosis in hand, patients can join clinical trials for new potential drugs and receive a prescription for Leqembi.

Not everyone favors the changes to the definition and diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s. Opponents feel that the biomarkers for Alzheimer’s aren’t specific enough and that beta-amyloid, tau, and inflammation also crop up across many other neurodegenerative conditions.

Early Diagnosis Matters

The researchers believe that the new criteria won’t be a cause for family doctors to start testing young patients for Alzheimer’s out of the blue. However, direct-to-consumer tests will be hitting the market and, therefore, young people may find out that they have Alzheimer’s based on these biomarkers.

For more information about highlights and findings from AAIC 2023, please click here.

Hope this is helpful!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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