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As many as 5.4 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s, a disease that destroys brain cells. The destruction of cells causes a decline in mental functions that affect memory, thinking, language and behavior. Early symptoms may include difficulty in performing everyday tasks or remembering common words. Confusion and difficulty with reasoning are other frequent symptoms. As the disease progresses, victims of Alzheimer’s disease become increasingly disoriented, anxious and agitated, until they can no longer perform the most basic tasks in their own care. While the disease can occur in people in their 40s and 50s, it most commonly affects those aged 65 and older.
Alzheimer’s disease causes a slow decline in thinking, reasoning skills and a loss of memory that disrupts daily life that is not a typical part of aging. Early symptoms may include difficulty in performing everyday tasks or remembering common words. Confusion and difficulty with reasoning are other frequent symptoms. As the disease progresses, victims of Alzheimer’s disease become increasingly disoriented, anxious and agitated, until they can no longer perform the most basic tasks in their own care.
Every individual may experience one or more of these early signs of Alzheimer’s disease in different degrees:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
Challenges in planning or solving problems.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.
Confusion with time or place.
Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships.
New problems with words in speaking or writing.
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
Decreased or poor judgment.
Withdrawal from work or social activities.
Changes in mood or personality.
The diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease and its differential diagnosis from the benign effects of normal aging or other types of dementia remain clinically difficult today. PET or PET/CT imaging with FDG has been shown to provide an accurate and positive differential diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of organic dementia. A PET scan can show a characteristic pattern of decreased FDG uptake in certain areas of the brain attributable to the functional changes of Alzheimer’s disease. These functional changes precede changes seen on anatomical imaging tests, and sometimes occur several years earlier than the onset of symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the build up of amyloid plaques in the brain. Another PET imaging biomarker AmyvidTM, can visualize evidence of amyloid plaque accumulation allowing physicians to use this information for clinical evaluation of patients for Alzheimer’s disease or other causes of cognitive decline.
Earlier detection and confirmation of Alzheimer’s disease allows for:
Earlier drug therapy to slow the loss of the patient’s ability to function.
Future planning with the patient before the loss of mental capacity.
Positive and accurate diagnosis of other dementia, chronic depression and normal aging.
Help in the discovery and development of new therapies.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but treatment for the degenerative forms of dementia is improving with the use of cholinesterase inhibitors and other treatment options. Drugs administered early in the course of memory loss delay progression of symptoms in patients.
PET or PET/CT imaging may diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early enough to make full use of drug therapies, reassure fearful patients who might not have the disease, or redirect treatment for other conditions.
While drug therapy is important and beneficial, especially in the early stages, the management of Alzheimer’s disease has evolved to include various strategies aimed at managing problematic behaviors, including therapy, changes in the home or environment and the use of appropriate communication techniques as integral aspects of care. Support and education for caregivers and family members are also crucial elements for the best care of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, the primary goals of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease are to improve the quality of life for the person suffering and for his or her caregiver(s).
Treatment typically is comprised of three interrelated approaches:
Drug therapies for slowing the progression of cognitive decline.
Non-drug approaches to improve communication and reduce behavioral problems, or to modify the home environment for safety.
Support and education for caregiver to provide improved care.
PET or PET/CT imaging can assist the physician in determining if the cause of cognitive decline is Alzheimer’s disease, blood flow shortages, depression, or some other reason.