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Recommendations Released for New Alzheimer's Diagnosis Tool

Beta Amyloid ImagingProgress in Alzheimer’s disease research and imaging over the past decade has now made it possible to detect beta amyloid in the human brain through imaging technology, adding a tool that can aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Beta amyloid is the chief component of plaques, one of the defining features of Alzheimer's. Compounds that adhere to beta amyloid in the brain are used with PET scans to detect this abnormality.     

In late January, the Amyloid Imaging Taskforce (AIT) – a group convened by the Alzheimer’s Association and the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) – released guidelines for the appropriate use of this new technology. The AIT concluded that amyloid imaging could potentially be helpful in the diagnostic process when the diagnosis is uncertain even after a comprehensive evaluation; when imaging is considered along with other clinical information; and when it is performed according to standardized protocols by highly trained staff. Once these criteria are met, the AIT concluded that amyloid imaging is appropriate when the individual:

  • Has persistent or progressive unexplained mild cognitive impairment;
  • Satisfies the core clinical diagnostic criteria for possible Alzheimer’s disease, but has an atypical clinical course or where there is substantial uncertainty about the underlying cause; or 
  • Has progressive dementia and an atypically early age of onset.

While brain amyloid imaging cannot establish a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease – it can only help rule out the disease – imaging can help clarify a diagnosis when other methods do not provide certainty.

New Studies Explore Link between Physical Activity, Heart Health, and Cognitive Health 

HeartEmerging research shows that physical activity and the maintenance of heart health may reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Two recent studies explore these connections.

In the first study, women with heart disease were three times more likely to develop MCI than women without heart conditions. (MCI involves mild changes in memory and thinking that are noticeable and can be measured on mental status tests, but are not severe enough to disrupt a person's day-to-day life.) In a study on physical activity, middle-aged individuals who were deemed physically fit based on a treadmill stress test were less likely to develop dementia after age 65 than those who were not physically fit.  

The public health community has the opportunity to undertake public health campaigns to promote brain health and healthy living practices. By combining heart health, physical activity, and brain health promotion messages, public health officials can potentially change the course of leading causes of morbidity and mortality.



SpotlightIn a new feature of the Alzheimer’s Public Health News, each issue, we will be spotlighting in depth a particular Alzheimer’s issue of importance to public health officials. This spotlight focuses on the connection between heart and brain health.

Research suggests that modifiable risk factors related to heart health, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes may be linked to cognitive health. What does the evidence say about this connection and how can the public health community use this information? Learn about the connection between heart health and brain health in this month’s Alzheimer’s and Public Health Spotlight.


CALENDAR: Events In Your Area

March 26: 30th Annual BRFSS Conference, Atlanta, GA. Presentation on the 2010 BRFSS Caregiver Data, with Elena Andresen, PhD. Roundtable on Cognitive Impairment and Caregiver Modules with CDC Healthy Aging Program Director Lynda Anderson, PhD.  

April 3: Alzheimer’s Caregiving in Connecticut, Hartford, CT. Breakfast on the 2010 Connecticut Caregiving Data. Contact Laurie Julian for more information,

April 8-10: Utah Public Health Conference, Ogden, UT. Presentation on Alzheimer’s Disease and Public Health in Utah. 

May 3: Alzheimer’s & Public Health: Moving Oregon Forward, Western Oregon University in Monmouth, OR.  An interactive symposium for public health practitioners and students. Register here or contact Jon Bartholomew for more information,  

May 9: Governor’s Conference on Aging, Great Falls, MT.  Presentation on Alzheimer’s Disease and Public Health in Montana.

Public Health Agenda
Public Health AgendaThe Alzheimer's Association has identified three key elements of an Alzheimer's public health agenda: surveillance, early detection, and promotion of brain health.

For more information on the Healthy Brain initiative, the public health agenda, or Alzheimer's disease in general, contact or check out

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According to official mortality data, over 83,000 Americans died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010 – the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.  Several studies have shown over the years that this number likely underestimates the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease.   And now a new study has found that dementia is the second highest contributor to deaths among seniors, even when it is not the direct cause of death.   Claims data were examined from 22,890 participants in the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey.  Researchers found that dementia contributes to 13.6 percent of deaths in older adults, second only to heart failure.   The researchers concluded that dementia is “a potent contributor” to death in older Americans