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Early Identification of Alzheimer's Disease: What Have we Learned from Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2014


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by cognitive decline, functional disability, and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Initial diagnosis is often delayed to a point when there is significant neurodegenerative pathology and secondary downstream pathogenic sequelae. The disease should be diagnosed during its earliest stage, as this would likely represent an ideal therapeutic window for disease-modifying therapies. Despite recent research that has focused on defining the clinically identifiable at-risk phase that precedes AD, reliable criteria for identifying patients in the prodromal to incipient stages of AD remain elusive.

In addressing the prodrome of AD, it has been clearly recognized that there are age-inappropriate cognitive declines that fall short of meeting the criteria for dementia. Most broadly, patients in this category have been classified as cognitively impaired not demented (CIND). In epidemiological studies, it has been estimated that 19% to 37% of patients ≥65 years of age are CIND. Conditions within the taxonomy of CIND include age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), age-associated cognitive decline (AACD), and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) (Slide 1).

AAMI is defined psychometrically by memory test scores that are ≥1 standard deviation below scores of young healthy control patients. AACD is characterized by scores in any cognitive domain that are ≥1 standard deviation below age- and education-adjusted normal measures. MCI is identified by memory function at a level ≥1.5 standard deviations below age- and education-adjusted means. Of these three conditions, MCI has been investigated most thoroughly and is defined by a clinical phenotype.

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