PET Scans as a Diagnostic Procedure for Alzheimer's Disease
As the population in the United States ages, many families are faced with the prospect of a loved one developing a frightening, confusing, and emotionally overwhelming diagnosis: Alzheimer's disease (AD). While many adults have some short-term memory loss in their lifetime, especially in their later years, an individual developing the onset of AD will experience a heightened sense of disarray. Indications such as drastic mood swings, decreased judgment with familiar tasks, difficulty with speech or motor skills, and disorientation to time and place can be early warning signs to a family that their loved one may be developing AD and prompt a physician referral for a PET scan (Alzheimer's Association, 2009). These same symptoms, however, could also be an indication of other significant medical concerns, ranging from dementia or depression to hyperthyroidism. Fortunately, modern medicine offers tests and procedures to help distinguish AD from other conditions. Nationwide studies have shown that patients who have a positron emission tomography (PET) scan as part of their neurological workup are far less likely to be misdiagnosed, leading to more effective treatment protocols (Schmidt, 2002). In fact, a UCLA medical team concluded that of every 100 potential AD patients examined using traditional methods (i.e., without the benefit of a PET scan), as many as 23 would be incorrectly diagnosed and up to eight cases would be missed entirely (Schmidt, 2002). For a family devastated by watching their loved one spiral into dark confusion, this error rate is not acceptable. "Previous studies show that PET examinations in AD predict the clinical progression and the autopsy diagnosis with high accuracy, especially at the early stages of dementia when the clinical impressions are less certain" (Mosconi et al., 2006). In 1999, PET scans were shown to improve correct diagnoses of AD by up to 14% and more recent studies...
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