Predicting Alzheimer's Disease with Spinal Fluid

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

For some years now, the research community has been intensively investigating bio-markers to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease at an early stage while the symptoms are still subtle and minimal brain damage has occurred. It is hoped that bio-markers progressing in advance of symptom progression will also be useful in understanding the disease and in unlocking the secrets of effective treatment.

There is massive press this week (NYTimes, CNN, WebMD, LATimes) on a new study published in the Archives of Neurology. The study shows that protein levels in the spinal fluid are useful in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, even in subjects with mild memory deficits that would not meet today's criteria for a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. This is good news and bodes well for ongoing efforts to understand and treat this debilitating disease.

Interestingly, this finding also adds importance to another debate that has been recently prominent in the press. The debate concerns the utility of new proposed guidelines that would define Alzheimer's disease based on the presence of mild symptoms plus pathology as opposed to the current guidelines which require severe symptoms (dementia) before making the diagnosis. What began as a hypothetical (if we had a good bio-marker, would we consider subtle memory loss plus a positive indication from the bio-marker as a conclusive indication of AD?) has now become a more concrete and more urgent question.

Personally, I side with the growing consensus of experts who believe that memory loss, when coupled with a bio-marker known to be associated with AD (hippocampal atrophy, amyloid plaques, or now, signature proteins in the spinal fluid), should be diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease and treated accordingly if other common causes of memory loss (depression, thyroid, vitamin deficiency, etc.) have been ruled out.
A better understanding and more awareness of Alzheimer's related issues can impact personal health decisions and generate significant impact across a population of aging individuals. Please use the share buttons below to spread this educational message as widely as possible.

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