Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, but the earlier a person is diagnosed the sooner they can get the treatment they need to slow down the progression of this cruel disease that robs people of their memory and ability to think. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease early also allows a family to make the necessary decisions on how to care for the Alzheimer’s patient before the disease progresses and the symptoms worsen.
Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging since other forms of dementia and some medical conditions like an underactive thyroid or vitamin B12 deficiency can mimic the early signs of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors rely mainly on tests that measure cognitive function and memory, which are not very specific for Alzheimer’s.
Early detection: Is there a better way?
Researchers at the National Health Service in the U.K. recently developed a computer software program that compares a patient’s brain scan with the results of 1,200 other people with the disease. This computer software program is 85 percent accurate for detecting the early signs of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Using this technology and brain scanning, earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease may be possible so that families can get the answers they need — and the patient can get treatment.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can only be definitively made at autopsy, and it’s a disease that’s not uncommonly misdiagnosed. In fact, when a group of researchers autopsied the brains of 426 Japanese-Americans who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while living, they found that half of them lacked enough evidence at autopsy to say they had the disease.
Other medical conditions that can mimic Alzheimer’s disease are normal pressure hydrocephalus, B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, tumors, depression, the effects of medications and other forms of dementia. Some of these conditions are treatable, which makes an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease of the utmost importance.
The bottom line
This new computer software program is currently being tested at medical centers throughout the U.K. If it proves to be accurate, hopefully it will make the diagnosis of dementia due to Alzheimer’s faster and more accurate for the sake of the patient and their family.