Lawrence Altman is an excellent medical reporter for the New York Times, with a long and distinguished history. Yesterday, he added to his considerable body of work with a story clarifying the issue of when President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease first became apparent. The article comes in the wake of recent suggestions from Reagan's son Ron that the president may have had the Alzheimer's in the White House. (Short answer: he didn't).
Altman's piece is solid. But it also made me cringe three times as it glossed over dated descriptions of the disease, passing up easy opportunities to improve basic public understanding.
Altman's three misses:
The disease occurs most frequently after 70, but it can strike younger people...diagnosing it with certainty requires a brain biopsy, rarely done while a patient is still alive.
This is still technically true, but it's so dated that it is like writing about car safety without mentioning seat belts or air bags. The public needs to understand that there have been enormous clinical advances in non-biopsy diagnosis over the last fifteen years: experienced Alzheimer's professionals can now diagnose the disease with more than 90% accuracy through a variety of mental status tests and brain scans. Further, though there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, there are good reasons to get diagnosed as early as possible.