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Glossary of terms and abbreviations

2016: Ethical issues linked to the changing definitions/use of terms related to Alzheimer’s disease

Amyloid plaques: abnormal clusters of “sticky” proteins called beta-amyloid that build up between nerve cells and interfere with signalling in the brain e.g. triggering inflammation and devouring disabled cells. One of the hallmarks of AD pathology.

Asymptomatic at risk for AD: in the context of the new AD definitions,a sub-group of preclinical AD consisting of pathological changes in people’s brains which are specific to AD but with no clinical signs/symptoms of AD.

Biomarker: a biological marker/characteristic of a normal or abnormal process in the body that can be objectively measured and evaluated.

CSF: cerebrospinal fluid (a body fluid found around the brain and the spine).

Clinical-biological entity: something that has clinical and biological characteristics.

Clinical diagnosis: the act or process of discovering or identifying a disease or medical condition by means of a medical examination to detect signs and symptoms or laboratory tests etc., resulting in a decision or opinion being made based on such examination, and usually information being given to the patient, often along with a diagnostic label.

Continuum: a range or series of things that are slightly different from each other and that exist between two different possibilities/extremes (e.g. underweight/overweight, hypotension/hypertension.

Dementia: a set of symptoms that typically include loss of memory, mood changes and problems with thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement. These symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. Dementia isn't a specific disease. It is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease or a series of strokes.

Dichotomous: divided into two distinct parts or states (e.g. heads or tails, rich or poor, healthy or sick).

DSM-III: the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is the standard classification of mental disorders used mainly by mental health professionals in the United States of America (the latest version is DSM-V).

et al. : stands for “and others” (e.g. the co-authors of a scientific article).

False positives and false negatives: a research or medical finding which suggests that a person has something that they don’t have or doesn’t have something which they do have.

Hippocampal lesion: damage in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is one of the first regions to suffer damage in the case of AD pathology and is known to be important for the person to recall new information.

Hypothesis: an assumption, usually expressed in the form of a statement, which is tested in the research project.

ICD-10: the tenth edition of the International Classification of Diseases developed by the World Health Organization.

Incidence: the number of new cases of people with a specified disease during a specified period in a specified population.

IWG: International Working Group (one of the main groups responsible for developing the new model and defintions of AD).

MCI: this stands for mild cognitive impairment.

MCI due to AD: in the context of the new AD definitions, this corresponds to the early symptomatic, pre-dementia phase of AD during which clinical symptoms are present but not severe enough to affect activities of daily life and are associated with specific biomarker changes. This term was coined by the NIA-AA.

Meta-analysis: the statistical analysis of the results of multiple scientific studies.

NIA-AA: National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association (one of the main groups responsible for developing the new model and defintions of AD).

Neurodegenerative disease: a disease which primarily affects neurons (it involves a degeneration of nerve cells).

Neurobrillary tangles: twisted fibres of a protein called tau present inside the neurones. The twisted strands of tau interfere with the transportation of nutrients and other essential supplies in the brain and cause cells to die. One of the hallmarks of AD pathology.

Neuroscientific: related to various scientific disciplines dealing with the structure, development, function, chemistry, pharmacology and pathology of the nervous system.

Pathology: deviations from what is considered as normal in relation to diseases or biological processes.

Pathophysiological: the effects of disease on physiological processes (of the functioning of organisms).

Physiopathology: relating to biological and physical manifestations of disease related to underlying abnormalities and physiological disturbances. About processes within the body that result in the signs and symptoms of a disease.

Post mortem: Latin for “after death”.

Preclinical: in the context of the new definitions of AD,the long asymptomatic stage between the earliest changes underlying AD pathology and the first specific cognitive changes.

Pre-dementia stage: in the context of the new definitions of AD, the stage between “pre-clinical AD” (described above) and the “AD dementia”. Pre-dementia therefore covers “prodromal AD” and “MCI due to AD”.

Presymptomatic AD: in the context of the new definitions of AD,a sub-group of preclinical AD which includes people who carry of dominatnt genetic variant of AD which makes it almost certain that they will develop AD dementia.

Prevalence: the number of cases of a disease that are present in a particular population at a given time.

Prodromal AD: In the context of the new AD definitions, this corresponds to the early symptomatic, pre-dementia phase of AD during which clinical symptoms are present but not severe enough to affect activities of daily life and are associated with specific biomarker changes. This term was coined by the IWG.

Public discourse: anything written, spoken, televised or heard via some media. A way to achieve mutual understanding through a rational exchange of arguments within the public sphere.

Randomised-controlled trial (RCT): a controlled experiment/study in which people are allocated (by chance alone) to receive one of several clinical interventions, one of which is the placebo (sometimes called the sugar pill), standard practice or simply no intervention. Differences between the results from the different groups are statistically analysed.

Socially salient: a particular attribute (e.g. having AD, having ginger hair or being blond, being unemployed etc.) that is considered by some people as being socially meaningful (i.e. it matters socially and may therefore have social implications).

Syndrome: a disease or disorder that involves a particular group of signs and symptoms OR a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder or disease.

Stigmatisation: when a person or group is devalued and discriminated against on the basis of a shared characteristic or attribute (e.g. having ginger hair, being divorced or having dementia) that is considered in some societies as socially significant. Negative stereotypes tend to be attached to the characteristic/attribute and there is a tendency to think of people with it as being in a group apart (i.e. “them” not  “us”).

 

 
 

Last Updated: Thursday 16 February 2017

 

 
  • Acknowledgements

    The discussion paper on ethical issues linked to the changing definitions/use of terms related to Alzheimer’s disease received funding under an operating grant from the European Union’s Health Programme (2014-2020). The content of this publication represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. It cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.
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