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To address the issue of mild, moderate, and severe Alzheimer's disease (AD), it is necessary to initially establish some agreement on terminology. In recent decades, these terms have frequently been defined using screening instrument scores with measures such as the Mini-Menal State Examination (MMSE). There are many problems with this approach, perhaps the most salient of which is that it has contributed to the total and tragic neglect of patients with severe AD. An alternative approach to the classification of AD severity is staging. This approach has advanced to the point where moderately severe and severe AD can be described in detail. Procedures for describing this previously neglected latter portion of AD have recently been extensively validated. Staging is also uniquely useful at the other end of the severity spectrum, in differentiating early aging brain/behavior changes, incipient AD, and mild AD. Temporally, with staging procedures, it is possible to track the course of AD approximately three times more accurately than with the MMSE. The net result of the advances in AD delineation is that issues such as prophylaxis, modification of course, treatment of behavioral distrubances, loss of ambulation, progressive rigidity, and the development of contractures in AD patients can now be addressed in a scientifically meaningful way that will hopefully bestow much benefit in AD patients and those who care for them.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is asociated with an increased mortality in comparison with aged control populations. The relationship between the clinical and the temporal course of AD has not been well studied over significant intervals. Community residing patients with probable AD (N = 103, 42 men, mean age = 70.2 ± 8.0 years) were studied at baseline on demographic and clinical variables, including measures of global deterioration (Global Deterioration Scale; GDS), mental status and cognition (e.g., Mini-Mental State Examination; MMSE), and functional impairment (Functional Assessment Staging; FAST). Baseline characteristics included a GDS range of Stage 4, 5, or 6 (38.8%, 39.8%, and 21.4% respectively) and a mean MMSE score of 15.4 ± 5.6. The mean follow-up interval was 4.6 ± 1.4 year. Follow-ups were done blind to baseline measures and when necessary were conducted in residential and nursing home settings. Of locatable subjects (n = 95, 92%), 30 (31.6%) were deceased. Survivors (n = 65) had a mean GDS stage of 6.2 ± 0.9 and a mean MMSE score of 5.1 ± 6.9; 51% had MMSE scores of 0. Increased age and male gender, but not baseline clinical dementia variables, increased the risk of death (ps < .01). Change in clinical variables correlated significantly with time elapsed (r = .32, p < .05, for MMSE change, to r = .48, p < .001, for GDS change). Significant variance in temporal change (i.e., time elapsed) was accounted for by change in two of the five clinical measures studied (i.e., GDS and FAST; multiple r = .53). The results support previous estimates of mean duration of the GDS and FAST stages. For subjects with probable AD followed over approximately 5 years, clinical variables changed significantly over time in survivors. However, the majority of temporal variance in the course of AD remains unexplained.
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