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Use lumbar puncture to aid Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, doctors advised

It can help when the exact cause of symptoms are uncertain, says NICE guidance

Caroline White

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A lumbar puncture can be used for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease if the exact cause of someone’s symptoms are uncertain, recommends updated guidance on the management and support of dementia from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, published today.

Previous guidance published 12 years ago limited the analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to dementia diagnosis only, but the updated guideline highlights the potential benefits of this procedure for helping to diagnose Alzheimer's disease as well.

A CSF examination can determine whether the hallmark proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease are present in people with symptoms of the disease. Along with other tests for memory and thinking and brain scans, it can boost the accuracy of the diagnosis, says the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, which contributed to the development of this latest guidance.

The guidance also encourages health and care professionals to make a point of telling people with dementia about how they can get involved in research studies through Join Dementia Research (JDR), a service which matches people keen to get involved in dementia research with suitable studies.

Under the auspices of Challenge on Dementia 2020, the government has set out an ambition for one in four people who are newly diagnosed with dementia to join JDR by 2020.

The original NICE guideline on dementia care was published in 2006. But Alzheimer’s Research UK wants to see future reviews take place more frequently as the understanding of dementia and how it is treated continues to develop.

Dr Matthew Norton, director of policy and strategy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented: “In recent years research has shown CSF tests can be a valuable tool for the detection of Alzheimer’s, and the inclusion of this approach could help provide an accurate diagnosis for people with the Alzheimer’s disease where a diagnosis is particularly uncertain.

“We still need more reliable ways of detecting diseases like Alzheimer’s, which is why it’s crucial to continue research to develop better diagnostic tools.”

He added: “We’re very happy to see the NICE guideline give additional attention to how health professionals can help people with dementia get involved in research. While a diagnosis of dementia can leave people feeling powerless, research represents a tangible way those individuals can regain some control and take action.

“Unfortunately, people with dementia are not always made aware of opportunities to be involved in research studies like those offered through Join Dementia Research. Although this is a key goal set out in the government’s Challenge on Dementia 2020, we must do more to increase awareness [of these] opportunities.”

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