Autopsy Guidelines Change

Earlier this year, the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association proposed new guidelines for Alzheimer's related autopsies (link to draft guidelines PDF).  The goal is to provide more information to scientists who are working to develop tests to diagnose Alzheimer's at an earlier stage.

The best measure currently to determine if a person had Alzheimer's is to have a pathologist examine the brain as part of an autopsy.  The documented cognitive decline in the individual is an important aspect in the diagnosis.  However, it is not considered definitive.  As a result, scientists are looking for changes in proteins in blood, changes to the cerebrospinal fluid or other biological markers.

The autopsy looks for the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are typical of late-stage Alzheimer's.  The interesting thing about autopsies is that some autopsies find these traits on individuals who were not suspected of having Alzheimer's.  They did not have the memory loss or other dementia symptoms.  This raises the question about how this is possible and is one of the biggest questions in Alzheimer's research today because it may open insight into treatment options.

Additional Information Sources:
Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging
Asymptomatic Alzheimer's disease: a prodrome or a state of resilience?
Alzheimer's Disease can be Asymptomatic at the Start


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