My friend was puzzled. “If we can’t treat Alzheimer’s disease, what’s behind the push for early diagnosis?”
It’s a good question and one that health care reporters should be able to answer as they report on this devastating illness.
A short response would go something like this:
Evidence now indicates that biological processes underlying Alzheimer’s disease begin at least 10 to 15 years before symptoms associated with this illness become evident.
Every attempt to date to intervene in patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease has failed. That has led scientists to conclude that it’s too late to try to change the course of Alzheimer’s disease at the point at which fundamental disease processes have been under way for some time.
Instead, scientists hypothesize, treatment must begin much, much earlier – before any symptoms become apparent – if it stands any chance of being effective. (Sometimes this is called the pre-clinical stage of Alzheimer’s.)
But there’s a catch – a big one – to this approach. You don’t want to give potential treatments to people who will never develop Alzheimer’s, since all treatments have side effects and patients would presumably be taking these treatments for many, many years. Continue reading