The first new diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer's disease in nearly 30 years expand the definition to include patients with earlier stage symptoms, emphasizing that the disorder begins wreaking havoc on the brain years before it can be detected. The recommendations, issued today by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association, recognize two new categories of the disorder: a preclinical phase that occurs before patients show any memory loss or thinking problems, and "mild cognitive impairment," defined by subtle symptoms that don't interfere with daily functions. "We're redefining Alzheimer's disease and looking at this in a different way than has ever been done," Creighton Phelps, director of the National Institute on Aging's Alzheimer's Disease Centers Program, told The New York Times. "I think we're going to start to identify it earlier and earlier." The guidelines are a stark contrast from the last set of recommendations, published in 1984, which only recognized the full-blown dementia phase of the disease. The shift encourages early screening for Alzheimer's, as well as continued research into drugs that could halt early brain changes and into ways to identify people who would most benefit from such treatment. "We've been an advocate for early diagnosis for many years," William Thies, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, told Bloomberg. "It allows people to anticipate what will happen and plan their lives to minimize the impact of what's coming for them."
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