Minimizing the Sample Sizes of Clinical Trials on Preclinical and Early Symptomatic Stage of Alzheimer Disease

J. Luo, H. Weng, J. C. Morris, C. Xiong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Clinical trials of investigational drugs for Alzheimer disease (AD) increasingly focus on the prodromal (symptomatic) stage of the illness and now its preclinical (asymptomatic) stage. Sensitive and specific cognitive and functional endpoints are needed to track subtle cognitive and functional changes in the early and preclinical stages to minimize sample sizes in these trials. OBJECTIVES: To identify informative items in a standard clinical assessment protocol and a psychometric battery that are predictive of onset of dementia symptom. DESIGN: Longitudinal retrospective study. SETTING: Washington University (WU) Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC). PARTICIPANTS: A total of 735 individuals at least 65 years old and cognitively normal at baseline from a longitudinal clinical cohort at the WU Knight ADRC. MEASUREMENTS: The annual clinical assessment included a wide spectrum of functional and cognitive domains; a comprehensive psychometric battery was completed about 2 weeks after the clinical evaluation. Psychometricians are blinded to the results of the clinical evaluation and to the prior performance of the participants on the psychometric tests. RESULTS: The mean age at baseline of the 735 participants was 74.30 and 62.31% were female. 240 individuals developed prodromal dementia symptoms (consistent with mild cognitive impairment due to AD and with very mild AD dementia) during longitudinal follow-up (mean follow-up=6.79 years). Among a total of 562 items in the clinical and cognitive assessments under analysis, 292 (52%) were identified as informative because their longitudinal changes were predictive of symptomatic onset. When these items were used to form the functional and cognitive composites, the longitudinal rates of changes were free of a learning effect and captured subtle longitudinal progression prior to symptomatic onset. The rates of change were much greater right after the symptomatic onset than those from the functional and cognitive composites formed using non-informative items. Although the sample sizes for prevention trials (prior to symptomatic onset) using the informative items still yield large numbers, the sample sizes for early treatment trial (after symptomatic onset) was much smaller than those derived from all the items or from the non-informative items alone. CONCLUSIONS: The antecedent longitudinal changes in nearly half of the items in a clinical assessment protocol and a comprehensive cognitive battery did not show statistically significant ability to predict the dementia symptom onset, and hence may be non-informative to track the preclinical functional and cognitive progression of AD. The remaining items, on the other hand, captured some of the preclinical changes prior to the symptom onset, but performed much better right after the symptom onset. Currently ongoing prevention trials on preclinical AD of elderly individuals may need to re-assess the sample sizes and statistical power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-119
Number of pages10
JournalThe journal of prevention of Alzheimer's disease
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018


  • Age of symptom onset
  • Alzheimer disease
  • informative items
  • power
  • prevention trials
  • treatment trials


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