What is Alzheimer's Disease? Depends who you ask...

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Embic Corporation

The New York Times has a long-running and widely read column called "The New Old Age" that covers topics that are pertinent to our aging population. In today's article about the definition of Alzheimer's disease, I think they have manufactured an unnecessary controversy.

In this article (Apparently Healthy, but Diagnosed with Alzheimer's?), the author takes issue with proposed diagnostic guidelines for researchers studying the earliest stages of the disease when pathology begins to accumulate prior to any observable symptoms. She builds a case against the proposed guidelines and paints a picture of widespread, premature diagnoses in the nation's primary care clinics. She further intimates that the new guidelines are a plot to drive economic benefits to companies that sell therapeutics. Admittedly, such a plot is not far-fetched, but that is not what is going on here.

Within the Alzheimer's scientific ecosystem, it is well understood that a research diagnosis and a clinical diagnosis serve different purposes. In fact, the draft "guidelines document" that is the subject of the NYTimes article clearly states that it is a "research framework" and includes the following, further clarification in it's opening:

"These new criteria do not constitute clinical practice guideline recommendations."

Today's NYT article fails to distinguish the difference between researchers who are studying the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease, and clinicians who are diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's disease in a symptomatic patient population. These two groups use justifiably different definitions of Alzheimer's disease.

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