Brain scans for Alzheimer’s disease

Created date

May 15th, 2019
A doctor speaks with her patient before a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which has been shown to influence how physicians manage patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

A doctor speaks with her patient before a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which has been shown to influence how physicians manage patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

A form of positron emission tomography (PET) scan has been shown to influence how physicians manage patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

PET scans have been in use for years for various diagnostic purposes, but the type used in this research, called amyloid PET imaging, uses special tracers that can detect amyloid protein plaques in the brain. A key characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is the formation of amyloid protein plaques and tangles within the brain, which previously could be confirmed only via autopsy.

In this study, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers examined the effect of providing results of amyloid PET imaging to physicians caring for patients with memory loss or cognitive decline. They set out to learn whether the additional information provided by the imaging would influence clinical decision-making.

Impact on treatment

The results were significant. Almost two-thirds of patients had their medical management changed when providers examined PET scan results. The treatment modifications included changing diagnoses, prescribing or stopping Alzheimer’s disease medications, and additional counseling recommendations.

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis is crucial to help patients receive appropriate symptom management and therapies. In addition, it can help families plan for financial and safety concerns and also help them secure early support for their loved ones from community resources.

Amyloid PET imaging is approved by the Food and Drug Administration but is not yet routinely covered by Medicare or other insurances. The researchers say that these study results illustrate the benefits of having an accurate diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease, and that amyloid PET imaging should be widely available.

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