How to Read the News: Part 3 of 5

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

The purpose of the Brain Today blog is to distill the daily news about brain health and help the public understand the essential meaning of each article. Through time however, I have found myself clarifying the same themes over and over again. Five of these themes are explored in this five-part series “How to Read the News About Alzheimer’s and Dementia”.

How to Read the News About Alzheimer’s and Dementia - Part 3 
Common Assertions About Diagnostic Accuracy Hide the Truth

This message will be succinct because the problem is quite simple. The problem is the insistence of most journalists to include, in all Alzheimer’s disease (AD) related articles, the fact that definitive diagnosis of the disease requires a brain biopsy. This essentially means that we cannot know for sure that one has AD until after death when an autopsy can be performed. The false (and dangerous) implication is that, without a diagnosis, we cannot treat.

The danger arises because this fact seems to suggest that, prior to autopsy, we have no idea whether or not a person has AD. That is simply not true. In fact, both specialists and primary care physicians alike can achieve a clinically acceptable level of diagnostic accuracy by following published guidelines for working up a cognitive complaint. The literature in this area shows that physicians can generally achieve better than 90% accuracy in diagnosing AD.

The next time you read that AD cannot be definitively diagnosed prior to death, be sure to remember that, like other well-known diseases, it can be effectively (if not definitively) diagnosed at a much earlier stage of severity. More importantly, don’t allow yourself to make the false conclusion that, without an autopsy, we cannot achieve adequate certainty to intervene with treatment.

Here are the links to each other part of this series:
Part 1 of 5: Be Aware of the Author's Definition of AD
Part 2 of 5: Don't be Mislead by Data on Treatment Efficacy
Part 4 of 5: The Term "Dementia" Cannot be Interpreted Loosely
Part 5 of 5: "No Cure" Not as Bad as it Sounds

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