PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Lots of people are forgetful.

Under new guidelines, this kind of absent mindedness might be Alzheimer’s disease.

“Someone who is worried enough so that they come in to me and say, ‘I’m worried and want to be tested,’ those people are at risk for having more problems and developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life,” says Carol Schramke, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Allegheny General Hospital. “That being said, most of the people who are worried, it’s normal aging and that doesn’t increase your risk.”

The Alzheimer’s Association and the U.S. National Institute of Aging now recognize the condition as a progression.

“It allows us to begin our work earlier,” says Bob LeRoy of the Alzheimer’s Association of southwestern Pennsylvania. “It gives the individuals and families more of an opportunity to plan and cope.”

It’s obvious when people clearly have problems with thinking, judgment and memory. But now, having mild symptoms, called mild cognitive impairment, is considered part of the disease.

“Getting the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, means that in the next 10 years, you have about a 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but that also means you have a 50 percent chance of not developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Schramke explains.

Even when symptoms haven’t started yet, there can be structural changes in the brain that can be seen with special experimental pictures called preclinical Alzheimer’s but for research purposes only.

“The only way to definitively know if someone has Alzheimer’s disease is either a biopsy or an autopsy and I always joke with my patients, ‘You don’t want either of those,’” Dr. Schramke continues.

These are the first new guidelines in 27 years — the result of discussions among leaders in the field at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease.

The broader definition could double the number of people with the diagnosis.

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