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Guidelines for Early Recognition, Care of Alzheimer's Disease

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Early recognition, diagnosis and care are recommended for patients with Alzheimer's disease according to new practice guidelines announced at the American Academy of Neurology's 53rd Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. Up to four million Americans and their families are affected by Alzheimer's disease, and the number is expected to grow to 14 million by 2050. The guidelines are published in the May 8 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, and online at www.aan.com.

"It's important to remember there are choices available that can make a difference in your life or the life of your husband, grandmother, neighbor or anyone you care about who has Alzheimer's disease," said neurologist Steven DeKosky, MD, co-author of the guidelines. "Alzheimer's disease is different from normal aging, and we need to encourage early recognition and diagnosis since it can make it easier for patient, family and doctor to deal with the disease."

Experts reviewed more than a thousand studies to develop the recommendations, which include topics ranging from how to recognize early signs of Alzheimer's, how to diagnose, when medication is most effective and what types of support can improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers.

News from the guidelines includes:

  • Alzheimer's disease is recognizable. There are ways to differentiate early Alzheimer's disease from normal aging. The Alzheimer's Association has developed a list of 10 warning signs that help identify the disease. 

  • Alzheimer's disease can be reliably diagnosed. Alzheimer's disease can be identified using a variety of tests. Early diagnosis is important because research shows current medication and care options are most effective in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

There are treatment and care options available today. While Alzheimer's disease has no cure, medication can improve quality of life and cognitive functions--including memory, thought and reasoning-- particularly among people who are mildly to moderately affected. Regular routines and activities such as mild exercise or walking can help with behavioral symptoms. In addition, education and support for caregivers can improve the well-being of both the person with Alzheimer's disease and the caregiver.

While the comprehensive guidelines were developed for physician use, a summary is available to help patients and their families better understand the options to discuss with their doctor. It is available online at www.aan.com.1080 Montreal Avenue * St. Paul, MN 55116
651-695-1940 * Fax 651-695-2791 * www.aan.com

AAN Guidelines
"Research shows learning about Alzheimer's disease is one of the best ways to help patients and their families," said Bill Thies, vice president of scientific and medical affairs at the Alzheimer's Association. "And since each and every one of us could know somebody who has this disease, it's important that we all know as much about it as possible."

The Alzheimer's Association has developed a list of warning signs that include common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Individuals who exhibit several of these symptoms should see a physician for a complete examination.

1. Memory loss that affects job skills
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation to time and place (getting lost)
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative


Alzheimer's disease currently affects one in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of those over age 85. More than 19 million Americans say they have a family member with the disease, and 37 million say they know somebody affected with Alzheimer's. The average lifetime cost per Alzheimer patient is $174,000 according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The multidiscliplinary panel of experts that developed the guidelines included neurologists, a primary care physician, psychiatrists, a geriatrician, a psychologist, a nurse, a social worker, a dementia family caregiver and representatives from the Alzheimer's Association. The appointment of authors for these guidelines was done in cooperation with the Alzheimer's Association, and overlaps significantly with the membership of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council and the Board of Directors of the association. The Alzheimer's Association agrees with the content of these papers in all important regards. These guidelines have been endorsed by the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses and the American Geriatrics Society.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, but the guidelines also provide recommendations on the recognition, diagnosis and management of other forms of dementia such as vascular dementia and Lewy body disease.

"The best evidence is available for Alzheimer's disease, but we know that all dementias are not the same," said neurologist James Stevens, MD, co-author of the guidelines. "We need to continue our research in order to have a better understanding of all dementias, and to ultimately find cures."

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. The American Academy of Neurology does not accept support for the development of guidelines or their publication. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its Web site at www.aan.com.

---American Academy of Neurology

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