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Expert Rev Neurother. 2011 Nov;11(11):1579-91. doi: 10.1586/ern.11.155.

Distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from other major forms of dementia.

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Center of Excellence on Brain Aging and Department of Neurology, New York University Langone Medical Center, NY, USA.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common and most studied cause of dementia. Significant advances have been made since the first set of clinical criteria for AD were put forth in 1984 that are now captured in the new criteria for AD published in 2011. Key features include recognition of a broad AD spectrum (from preclinical to mild cognitive impairment to AD dementia) and requirement of AD biomarkers for diagnosis. Correctly diagnosing dementia type is increasingly important in an era when potential disease-modifying agents are soon to be marketed. The typical AD dementia syndrome has at its core, an amnestic syndrome of the hippocampal type, followed by associated deficits in word-finding, spatial cognition, executive functions and neuropsychiatric changes. Atypical presentations of AD have also been identified that are presumed to have a different disease course. It can be difficult to distinguish between the various dementia syndromes given the overlap in many common clinical features across the dementias. The clinical difficulty in diagnosis may reflect the underlying pathology, as AD often co-occurs with other pathologies at autopsy, such as cerebrovascular disease or Lewy bodies. Neuropsychological evaluation has provided clinicians and researchers with profiles of cognitive strengths and weaknesses that help to define the dementias. There is yet no single behavioral marker that can reliably discriminate AD from the other dementias. The combined investigation of cognitive and neurobehavioral symptoms coupled with imaging markers could provide a more accurate approach for differentiating between AD and other major dementia syndromes in the future.

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