Scanning for Alzheimer's
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Alzheimer's affects 5.4 million Americans

When a parent starts with occasional forgetfulness, you may not worry much. But then the mental lapses get serious when a forgotten pot on the stove starts a fire. Unfortunately, neurologists can’t confirm whether a patient has Alzheimer’s disease – only an autopsy can do that.

A newly approved test can’t definitively diagnose the disease yet, but it gets doctors pretty close. The test uses a mildly radioactive fluorescent dye called Amyvid, which latches onto amyloid plaques in the brain. Identifying amyloid plaques can tell doctors if someone has dementia or could develop dementia. They’re protein fragments that normally break down, but cause disease when they accumulate into hard insoluble plaques.

It’s unclear whether amyloid plaques cause Alzheimer’s, but their presence is indicative of the disease. Once Amyvid, the fluorescent dye, binds to the plaque, a positron emission tomography or PET scan reveals where the protein clusters. While a clear scan is a relief, a positive scan doesn’t necessarily mean someone has Alzheimer’s disease. Twenty to 30 percent of people over 65 have some plaque but may never develop dementia.

The test is significant to Alzheimer’s research since it will allow scientists to identify and track people with dementia, expanding their knowledge about the causes of Alzheimer’s and its progression. Scientists can also monitor how the disease develops under experimental therapeutics.

Finding effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease will become more pressing as America’s population ages. It is the number one cause of dementia in America, affecting 5.4 million people. By 2050, costs for treating Alzheimer’s patients are projected to soar to one trillion dollars.

Eventually people with early signs of dementia will be able to get the new PET scan. While some will want to be prepared, not everyone wants the crushing news.

 


For more information…

Brain Scan for Alzheimer's
An article in Technology Review, published by MIT, describes the approval of the new scan using a dye that binds to the plaques in the brain that would help to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Dementia
The Center of Excellence on Brain Aging at the NYU Langone Medical Center offers this very nice web page that provides information about dementia, which can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, but also by other factors.

The Curse of a Diagnosis
This article from the Wall Street Journal includes a personal testimonial of the impact of Alzheimer’s diagnosis on life, which is quite telling.

Alzheimer's Disease
The US Library of Medicine is a great resource for medical information. They produce PubMed Health, which offers this excellent web page about Alzheimer’s disease, including images and links to additional resources.

Alzheimer's Association
The Alzheimer's Association is the leading, global voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care and support, and the largest private, nonprofit funder of Alzheimer's research. Their webpage has many resources for those with Alzheimer’s, caregivers, physicians and scientists. This is an excellent and informative site.

Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet
The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, provides this Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet which includes an informative video, information about clinical trials and other information.