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New Criteria for Diagnosing Alzheimer's Coming

Earlier Diagnosis Needed as New Drugs Come Down the Pike

Biomarker Tests Not Ready for Prime Time, Yet

"We need to standardize biomarkers and diagnostic criteria so ... it means the same thing across all centers," says Reisa A. Sperling, MD, an associate professor of neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Phelps adds that using these tests before they are validated could do more harm than good.

"In some studies conducted by the best labs in the world, there was a 30% discrepancy among results, and until they validate a better way to do some of the measurements, there may be too many false-positives and we would be telling people they were in trouble when they weren't,"  he says.

That's not to say you must sit idly by while researchers scurry to complete their task, Sperling says.

"Do everything possible to keep socially, physically and mentally active and lead a healthy lifestyle," she says.

"If you are seeing any kind of symptoms in yourself or your family like getting confused or forgetting things or short-term memory loss that is happening more regularly and getting worse, seek out advice form a specialist or memory disorders clinic," Phelps says. These subtle cognitive changes may appear a decade before the onset of dementia.

Volunteering to participate in clinical trials evaluating Alzheimer's risk factors and new drugs is another way to help move this field forward, McKhann says.

"If you have family history of Alzheimer's disease or other concerns about your risk, keep an eye on trials and be open to volunteering," he says.

The Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging  launched www.alz.org/research/diagnostic_criteria/overview.asp to solicit input from additional experts. The criteria are open for comment until September 2010, and then the approved criteria will be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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