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New diagnostic criteria and new biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease should go a long way in helping physicians catch the disease earlier and develop therapies faster, according to new guidelines released by the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Aging.

The guidelines — the first new set in 27 years — identify previously unrecognized phases of the disease. The three new phases refer to the disease’s progression, starting before well-known symptoms such as memory loss appear. In “preclinical Alzheimer’s disease,” scans of the brain and measurement of spinal fluid changes can provide clues to any physical deterioration. In “mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease,” family members and physicians might recognize mild memory and cognitive problems, which are measurable but don’t greatly impact day-to-day functioning. In the third phase, “dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease,” memory, thinking and behavioral deficiencies become clear.

The new guidelines and criteria hopefully will give researchers a more accurate way to assess the prevalence of the disease, says William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer’s Association.