Did you know though that each year there are a large number of people misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s? For years the only definitive way of knowing if someone had it was via autopsy after death. Doctors would determine this by analyzing the brain to look for certain plaque in the area. Now though there is hope of determining this while a patient is still alive. Now the FDA is trying to determine whether it will give approval to one of these tests.
There is nothing more heart wrenching than a person going through the ordeal of Alzheimer’s. For the patient it’s a lifetime of memories systematically being taken away. For the loved ones, it’s the heartbreak of watching someone they love slipping away forever and having nothing they can really do about it. As mentioned above though, without a definitive test, some times the disease is given as the reason for some problems then after an autopsy it is found to be dementia or something similar. The danger in this is that there are other things that can be done for those patients. With Alzheimer’s right now there is no real treatment. So patients misdiagnosed maybe left to deteriorate when some other steps could be tried.
PET scans are part of this new procedure and have shown real promise in detecting actual Alzheimer’s cases. Now the study documenting this was not a huge one, encompassing 35 patients who were terminally ill and consented to having the scan and a subsequent autopsy after death. To conduct the scan part of the process, doctors injected a dye which is radioactive into the patient. It is a special dye created by the company conducting the study, Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, and it is called Florbetapir F 18, as cited in a CNN blog done by Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
The dye is important to the process because it does a particularly good job of adhering itself to amyloid proteins, which is the main cause found for Alzheimer’s in patients. The great thing is that it seems to work on those proteins but does not attach to other tissues in the body. Once attached to those proteins, this dye makes it very easy for the PET scan to detect in the brain. This study conducted got the diagnosis right 97 percent of the time! To be sure, testing was also done on 74 young and healthy people with all coming back tested without Alzheimer’s appearing.
Is this the answer to telling if someone has Alzheimer’s? Researchers say no, but rather the use of this test can help determine if a patient’s apparent dementia is not Alzheimer’s. If that plaque show up on the PET scan, study evidence would lead you to believe that it is Alzheimer’s and doctors proceed as they normally would. Ah, but if these plaque are not present, then it should signal to the doctor to consider looking for other underlying causes for the person’s memory impairment. Imagine that, whether your patient or family, knowing that what you feared to be the problem could be something else. The patient may very well have something fixable and that makes this test a very good thing and hopefully something the FDA will give its OK to if proven safe.