PET Scans Improve The Diagnosis Of Alzheimer’s

Before technology evolved, allowing researchers to scan the brain, scientists had to wait until a patient was deceased in order to perform an autopsy. This, of course, helped research progress — but was not ideal in terms of proactive intervention.

Luckily, today, both researchers and doctors can view detailed, three-dimensional images of the brain. Revealing issues with both function and form, we now understand how the brain communicates — especially in terms of abnormal activity.

Recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, it appears that routine brain scanning could significantly improve dementia diagnosis.

The Complexity of Alzheimer’s and Cognitive Impairment

Although research has come a long way, the only way to truly determine whether or not a patient has Alzheimer’s, is to study the brain after death.

For many, this has led to years of misdiagnosis. While alive, patients are often tested in terms of their cognitive functioning. These specialized tests can help determine whether or not, everyday skills are being affected. This can then lead to further testing, early intervention, and a more positive prognosis.

In addition, CT and MRI scans can also help rule out other potential causes, including a stroke or tumor. In that sense, diagnosing dementia isn’t always black and white — there are gray areas. Sometimes, doctors need to eliminate other possible factors before coming to a more accurate conclusion.

Suggested reading: Do We Officially Know What Causes Dementia?

The Importance of PET Scans For Medical Management

Based on this new research, when PET scans are administered, this can improve the diagnostic process for more than two thirds of patients.

Why is this such important news, you ask?

Well, even when patients have access to healthcare, these tests are rarely administered. Within the NHS, for instance, patients can wait up to four years to receive a correct diagnosis, with PET imaging tests costing up to £3,000 per scan. If these tests were more readily available, it could significantly impact the dementia and Alzheimer’s community.

After administering a scan such as this, for instance, researchers are able to more effectively determine how one’s neurons are communicating. Showing a possible buildup of amyloid plaques, researchers and physicians can then make a more accurate diagnosis.

In summary:

  • It appears that amyloid PET scans could be the answer in terms of ensuring the newest medications and treatment options reach the right patients at the right time.
  • In addition to early intervention, these scans could also help those without dementia (based on the absence of amyloid plaques) seek greater peace-of-mind.

The Research Continues to Develop and Unfold

It’s clear that PET scans can help a wide range of patients — both those with and without dementia. For example, within one key study, researchers in Stockholm focused on traditional assessments in terms of the diagnostic process. Here are a few highlights:

  • Studying 135 participants, PET imaging results were presented for 61 individuals diagnosed with either mild cognitive impairment (n=38); Alzheimer’s (n=13); other types of dementia (n= 8); in addition to severe cognitive impairment (n=2).

  • Based on these imaging techniques, this led to a change in diagnosis among 68 percent of participants. Meaning, not only are PET scans valuable in terms of diagnosing patients, but they also help clarify potential misdiagnosis.

In relation to the most current research, I think it’s important to acknowledge the progress that’s been made. PET scans are a perfect example, as they have revolutionized clinical research. This has allowed for more accurate treatment plans, based on in-depth drug trials.

When Should PET Scans Be Administered?

Focusing on the clinical roles of PET scans, recommendations have been made regarding when these scans should be used within a clinical setting. Certain groups of patients would benefit more than others, especially when treatment may be altered due to PET-related findings.

In that sense, those who may benefit from PET scans include:

  • Patients who have experienced progressive cognitive impairment, which is unexplained.

  • Those who are believed to have Alzheimer’s, yet display unusual or unexpected symptoms.

  • Individuals who are experiencing early onset dementia, who may benefit from a unique treatment plan — or require a referral to participate in a clinical trial.

In comparison, PET scans would not be highly recommended among patients whose disease management would likely not improve or benefit, including:

  • Patients displaying typical Alzheimer’s symptoms, based on their age of onset.

  • Patients who are not displaying symptoms based on clinical examination.

  • Those who would like to know their risk of developing Alzheimer’s — which is what BrainTest is ideal for, offering a non-invasive, effective assessment tool.

  • Individuals who are being screened based on non-medical purposes, such as employment.

As we continue to cover the latest in Alzheimer’s research, we will provide educational support — helping you and your family make more informed decisions. After all, “When you improve your brain, you improve your life.”

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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