Technology can catch Alzheimer's desease early

It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of people over age 65 will be affected by Alzheimer’s disease by 2030. Positron Emission Tomography (PET), a technology available to Federal Way patients, is giving people a chance at detecting the illness early.

PET is an imaging technique that, combined with conventional diagnostic techniques, has a 90 percent sensitivity for diagnosing Alzheimer’s in its early stages, said Kim Papich of TRA Medical Imaging Centers, which is based in Tacoma. The firm’s radiologists “read” for St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way and other hospitals, she said.

Conventional diagnostic techniques that only study anatomy, including CT and MRI scans, and EEGs may misinterpret findings as normal or show only non-specific findings. PET analyzes the brain’s use of glucose, Papich explained.

The current recommendation for patients with adverse changes in cognition or behavior is to obtain PET scanning early in clinical work-ups. This is especially important in behavior that hasn’t been fully explained or reversed following standard diagnostic and treatment approaches, according to TRA.

This is becoming even more pertinent, as Alzheimer’s is recognized as a pharmacologically treatable dementia. Clinical trials have shown that cholinesterase inhibitors can delay a patient’s decline in memory and help improve their functional abilities. Studies suggest this delayed some patients’ entry into nursing home placement by 18 months.

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