Does a brain scan predict Alzheimer’s? Is it better to get one or not?

Does a brain scan predict Alzheimer’s? Is it better to get one or not?


Ms. Engel, aged 65 neurologist, was trying to help her mother with Alzheimer’s. She was researching amyloid levels in her mother’s brain. She used the PET scan to get the results and estimate the risk and understand clearly what was going on.

The mother Sue Engel, aged 83, is having cognitive problems for many years. She is an old lady who used to have financial problems and auto accident. Her daughter wanted to do this scan because she wanted to help her. But this scan costs a lot and the expenses are not covered by Medicare program. So she said she would pay just to get good results. Her mother actually has Alzheimer’s diagnosis and is taking medications.

The doctors do a PET scan to patients only if they think they have unusual symptoms or are unsure about having the right diagnoses. But there are some evidence that some seniors get brain damage much earlier that the symptoms actually appear.  That’s why they want to determine the situation and find out whether there is a slight chance for Alzheimer’s.

But the doctors were trying to release two alternatives. A new blood type test was developed by which the amyloid level was easily determined. This test can also predict how the plaques in the brain develop. But it is not still in use.

Experts from the University of Michigan published an article about the early detection of Alzheimer’s. They stated that the plaques from the amyloids usually appear in the senior's brains but not everyone develops dementia. Researchers proved that an old man from 75 years has 17.2 percent to get dementia, whereas this number is bigger to women – at about 24 percent. These symptoms are more expressed at older age, but sometimes die even before the symptoms appear. And there are no drugs to stop, prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s. Maybe the most important reason for this condition is that symptoms are not detected on time. So doctors are still making trials to find the right drugs and treatment by testing people with cognitive dysfunctions.

Most common dementia drugs such as Aricept and Namenda have an insignificant improvement for Alzheimer’s. Doctors think that they are not effective even for a small cognitive impairment.

On the other hand, Medicare proved a completely opposite theory. They consider the PET can as a mean to discover the right amyloid level in the brain for setting up the right treatment. They analyzed almost 12,000 of their patients with mild cognitive impairment at the age of 75, and proved that to almost 70 percent of amyloid levels lead to dementia.

The change in numbers was enormous. Those who are taking Alzheimer’s drugs and those with dementia drugs almost doubled their number after the PET scan was done. But stopping these treatments happens rarely because most of the cases it is difficult to be stopped, even after a negative pet scan.

But still, the most important issue from these examinations was whether this PET scan to become an essential part of the Medicare and Alzheimer’s Association medical care.  But a certain worry appeared. Will this approved drug tested on some people work for others.

Another worry was the coast. But Dr. Covinsky stated that he really doesn’t care whether this cost a lot of money or nothing, he still would not recommend it to people with cognitive problems. In some cases, PET scan motivates parents to change their lifestyle and quit smoking and fatty food, and exercise a lot; especially those with genetic risk.

Until now, costs are maybe the only reason why people don’t do this PET scan.  But if Medicare starts to pay for it, a lot of patients will be persistent in finding a way to get one. Doctors want this decision to be to the patient himself.

So, Juli Engel is one of those who considered her mother's illness and her grand-parents, is completing her documents at neurologist’s office. She wants to be moved into assisted living when there is a need for that. She is so much aware of the way this illness develops and what would happen to her. As everyone should be.

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Duska Milcovska
Duska Milcovska

Duska Milcovska - experienced English language teacher, translator, writer and proofreader. Positive, hardworking and sociable ready to face every work challenge.

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