Long term care (LTC) insurance is already on shaky ground. New diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease will likely make the problem even worse.
Scientists and doctors have lately developed ways of detecting the disease at earlier stages than previously possible. A recent study of a new imaging technique, known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) or diffusion MRI, revealed that this method holds even more promise than traditional MRIs for detecting Alzheimer’s. Using brain imaging, doctors may someday be able to identify the disease before symptoms begin to manifest themselves. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) spokesman and geriatric psychiatrist Richard E. Powers told WebMD Health News, “I believe that five to 10 years down the road we will be able to tell someone we are 99% certain that they will develop dementia within 10 years.”(1)
In light of these advances, working groups formed by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association recently recommended a new diagnostic category be created for “preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.” The working groups also suggested that biomarkers, such as those revealed by brain imaging, ought to play a greater role in diagnosis. Although the diagnosis of “preclinical Alzheimer’s disease” would initially be used only in research, not medical practice, it is likely that it would quickly seep out into the general medical community. Together with the new focus on brain imaging, this could lead to more people without apparent memory impairment being diagnosed.
This is, of course, good news in the long term. Alzheimer’s cannot be stopped or reversed today. But when effective therapies are available, early diagnosis will likely be critical.