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Alzheimer's Disease: The Importance of Early Detection

- Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Though a cure for Alzheimer's disease remains elusive, experts believe earlier and more accurate diagnosis will aid efforts to discover effective therapies. Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, answers the question: "Why is early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease important if no treatments currently exist to delay progression of the disease?" 

Early and more accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is important in helping us develop a better understanding of the biology of the disease. This, in turn, will help researchers design and test new drugs that will intervene earlier in the disease process. 

We use the term Alzheimer's disease to talk about people who are demented, but there are many people with it who aren't yet demented. In fact, one third of all older adults show Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains, though they may not yet show symptoms

We know that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease progress gradually over many years. People with Alzheimer’s disease don’t go from normal to demented overnight. Instead, the disease is a continuum, and earlier diagnostic procedures will help us treat it as such. 

For instance, we understand that high blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke. So, when we go to the doctor and find out that we have high blood pressure, we start to treat it right away, years before a stroke might occur. The same should apply to Alzheimer’s disease

We want to identify those who are at risk years before dementia occurs, because we are working hard toward the day when we can diagnose and treat those risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease in the earliest stages -- just as we might treat high blood pressure or cholesterol.

From Johns Hopkins Health Alert