How Soon Do You Want Your Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

Also in the news today (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/health/policy/14alzheimer.html?src=me&ref=homepag) is a report of a broadening of criteria to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. This reflects the fact that newer tests, including PET scans and biomarkers, are enabling doctors to better predict who is on their way to developing clinical Alzheimer’s.

While hailed as an important new step, one doctor cautions that, until we have something that will truly modify the disease, “There’s no point in just giving them a label.”

Amen. And what a label it is! I recall Richard Elbein of the Southeast Texas Alzheimer’s Association telling me of the man in his 50s who had very mild difficulty in concentration, and after a workup was told it looked like early AD. This otherwise healthy man went home and killed himself.

I’ll ask the same question I always ask in my talks: “Doctors say we need people to come out for early detection; but who wants to be detected if you know you will be treated like less of a person when the results are in??”

With earlier labeling of people as “probable dementia” comes an enormous responsibility to change the experience of the illness for these same people, or else we court disaster on many fronts–personal, economic, social and ethical.

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