In 2011, the National Institutes of Health revised the diagnostic criteria for determining the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. The first step is to recognize that Alzheimer’s disease has three major stages:

  • Pre-clinical: In this stage, no symptoms are evident, but changes to the brain may be occurring including the buildup of amyloid protein bundles.
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment: Also known as MCI, patients may present with memory and/or thinking problems beyond that which is considered normal for a person of that age and level of education. At this stage, the patient can still maintain his or her independence.
  • Alzheimer’s dementia: At this stage the patient is experiencing memory and life management issues to the degree that living independently is not linger feasible without risk of harm and or injury.
Research for the development of new diagnostic tests and tools is being conducted and is expected to have an impact on early detection. Traditional methods continue to be utilized by health care providers. These include:

  • Cognitive Tests: Cognitive tests are used to measure and evaluate functions such as memory, problem solving, concentration, language skills, and visual spatial awareness. These tests are vital in the diagnosis of the disease.
  • Biomarker Tests: Biomarkers are molecules that can be measured to indicate the presence of the disease. Two proteins- amyloid and tau- can be measured in cerebrospinal fluid to see if abnormal levels of these proteins are present; this may indicate the presence of the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Brain Imaging: Researchers are studying the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans to view affected areas of the brain, including the buildup of abnormal protein bundles and tau tangles.
  • Genetic Testing: Several genes have been identified as having a relationship to Alzheimer’s disease. Some genes appear to play a detrimental role while others may be protective. Future genetic tests may provide comprehensive assessments for those with family history or carrying high-risk genes.