May 1, 2012

The heartbreaking effects of Alzheimer’s disease have been well-documented. For families in Oregon that are concerned about the health of older loved ones, the mere suspicion that something is wrong is stressful; a doctor’s news that the brain scan confirmed the diagnosis can be devastating. It was with interest, then, that we noted an opinion piece about a new study. The researchers found that about two-thirds of brain scans resulted in a misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was conducted using individuals with a mean age of 64 who lived in a care community. Prior studies concerning the accuracy of using positron emission tomography, or PET, scans to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease have used participants who were more particularly selected, possibly skewing the results by using an unrepresentative group.

A critic of this use of PET scans argued that the results showed that while there may still be some valid uses of brain scans in Alzheimer’s disease research, they are inappropriate for use in diagnosing the condition. He also indicated that a detailed examination of an individual’s medical history and a thorough examination must often be followed up by additional assessments over time before a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be arrived at.

In addition to problems concerning the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there are indications that there may be problems with the use of certain drug therapies to treat the disease. Some medications can cause nausea and vomiting, and the level of decline in diagnosed patients varied depending on which particular drugs or combinations of medications were tried.

In at least one instance, medical researchers claim that there is no convincing evidence of a benefit to patients from the administration of a higher dose of one drug frequently used to treat Alzheimer’s, as compared to a lower dosage. They are therefore requesting that the FDA examine whether the present labels for the higher dosages of the drug are misleading.

Source:, “Brain scans lead to misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease,” Bill Beckwith, M.D., April 30, 2012


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