The U.S. National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association have worked together to create new guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease that may help to catch and treat it in earlier stages. The guidelines, updated for the first time in more than 30 years, recognizes three specific phases of the deteriorative brain disorder–an early, pre-symptomatic stage in which changes in brain structure can be detected by MRI scans, cognitive impairment and full-blown Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Disease is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65, but symptoms may present themselves many years earlier, starting with mood swings, loss of memory for names and places, confusion and difficulty with familiar tasks, such as dressing or paying bills. Eventually the majority of all cognitive ability is lost to the illness, and the majority of Alzheimer’s patients die within seven years after diagnosis. Though there is currently no cure, there are some preventative measures believed to hinder development of the disease, such as maintaining a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables and fish, light consumption of red wine and using medicinal marijuana. The most effective measure so far in reducing the risk and effects of Alzheimer’s Disease is engaging in intellectual activities such as board games, crossword puzzles, reading or playing a musical instrument, as well as maintaining an active social life.
Alzheimer’s is thought to be caused by an accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain, followed by the loss of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex, which eventually causes portions of the brain to literally reduce in size. The initial damage takes place often before the patient is even aware of a problem, and it is hoped that earlier detection according to the new diagnosis guidelines may offer doctors the ability to slow down or even stop further deterioration. Earlier detection may also eventually lead to pattern recognition in people with Alzheimer’s Disease, which could open the doors for pre-screening and the possibility of a cure.
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