Alzheimer's Disease Screening
Using PET Scans to Aid in Diagnosis of Dementia
There are many causes of dementia, a small minority of which are potentially reversible. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of all cases of dementia. It is estimated to affect 4 million Americans and is predicted to rise to 14 million.
Some medications can slow the progression of cognitive decline in mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer’s disease and delay the need for more intensive care or nursing home placement. Efficacy of treatment is related to when therapy is initiated: the earlier therapy begins, the better the short- and long-term results.
Correctly identifying the cause or type of dementia can impact response to treatment and ability to offer long-term prognosis. Unfortunately, symptoms usually develop gradually and go unrecognized early in the course of the disease process. Even after a thorough evaluation, it can still be difficult to delineate the exact type of dementia, and determining the correct diagnosis can take months or even years.
There is an imaging technique known as “Positron Emission Tomography,” or PET, that can be a significant aid in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease or other common causes of dementia such as frontotemporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and vascular dementia. PET scans can identify Alzheimer’s disease early in its course and thus allow for earlier treatment with improved long term prognosis. Additionally, PET scans may also identify changes in the brain associated with a condition known as Mild Cognitive Impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia, years before clinical dementia arises.
PET scans are widely used to diagnose and monitor cancer, evaluate cardiovascular disease, identify a seizure focus in patients with epilepsy, and to assist in the diagnosis of the most common forms of dementia. The physician looks for particular patterns of metabolic activity in the brain which are associated with the most common types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnostic accuracy using PET scans with clinical findings approaches 90%, which can be significantly higher than clinical diagnosis alone.
There is a considerable amount of ongoing research evaluating different PET techniques to assess for dementia, particularly from Alzheimer’s disease. Although these techniques are still under investigation and not widely available for normal clinical use, there is great promise in developing even more accurate methods to detect dementia. Furthermore, there is also ongoing research for new treatments of Alzheimer’s disease that may one day dramatically improve the symptoms and quality of life of persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Using clinical findings along with data from PET scans, treating physicians can make better informed decisions regarding types of treatment to offer patients. Patients can benefit from earlier and possibly more appropriate treatment that has potential to improve their quality of life as well as the lives of their loved ones. Finally, just having an accurate diagnosis can be reassuring to a family seeking answers in a difficult time and this can help when making important decisions regarding personal family matters.
Alzheimer's Screening $1350
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