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Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

Could Brain Scans Lead to Earlier Alzheimer's Diagnosis?

Brain animation

Alzheimer's research is constantly changing. Case in point, the latest study published by Neuron. This new study believes that PET brain scans may be able to diagnosis Alzheimer's disease - as well as track the progression of the disease over time. While much research has been focused on amyloid-beta (the proteins that are often linked to Alzheimer's disease), this new research is instead focusing on a protein called tau. This protein is thought to form in the "tangles" of the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The researchers responsible for the study believe that using PET scans to look at the brain may be able to compliment amyloid-beta imaging research already being conducted. Together, these brain scans may be able to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease many years before any symptoms begin to occur. Potentially, this could change the lives of many. If patients had a pre-clinical Alzheimer's diagnosis, they could focus on taking preventative measures to avoid or slow down the disease. Some of the more common preventative measures include a well-balanced diet in addition to regular mental and physical exercise.

So, how exactly did this study work? It used "fluorescent tags" that are able to latch onto tau proteins. The PET scans allowed researchers to look in different areas of the brain to see where those fluorescent tags were accumulating. Researchers involved with this project felt that this was a promising new way of locating tau proteins. If this method of tau detection is effective, it could be incredibly useful. It would be able to diagnose the disease and monitor it's progression over time.

At the moment, proper Alzheimer's diagnosis is lacking. In fact, the only true way to determine whether or not someone has had the disease is to study the brain after they die. This is why the new research study is so promising. Having a confirmed diagnosis before any of the symptoms of the disease begin to occur could create huge change in the way we deal with Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers are optimistic that in the future, early diagnosis will be possible. They believe this can be done through PET scans and imaging, along with genetic tests and any known pre-disposition for the disease. Whether this will happen any time soon remains to be seen. However, it does give hope that prevention and early detection will someday be available to Alzheimer's patients. With the estimated number of people living with Alzheimer's disease steadily rising and care giving costs increasing, it is more important than ever to really focus on not just treatment options, but early detection and prevention.

It can take decades before any notable Alzheimer's symptoms occur in patients. This is why the pre-clinical period is the most important time. It gives patients a little time to change their lifestyle and potentially slow down or even prevent the progression of the disease altogether. These PET brain scans may not be the definitive answer or cure everyone is hoping for. However, it certainly provides hope that a future without Alzheimer's disease isn't such an impossible concept after all.

Do you need more information about preventing memory loss? Contact the Age Matters Clinic at: 647-268-0620. We understand how to improve the life of Alzheimer's and memory loss patients.