Scans Can Show Who Might Develop Alzheimer's

Two new studies highlight how brain scans can tell whether someone will go on to develop Alzheimer's, and how quickly the person will decline mentally.

As people get older, it is not normal to have a decline in cognitive function or the ability to think and remember.

Any change is abnormal, and these studies show changes, on brain MRI, can be powerful predictors of who is at risk, allowing the patient and family to be better prepared.

The two new research studies, in the Journal Neurology, showed MRI brain scans can tell how quickly a person will decline if diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and who, even among those with mild forgetfulness, will develop full blown Alzheimer's dementia.

The MRI should be a standard part of the workup of anyone with any suggestion of mental decline, said Dr. Jeremy Koppel, a neurologist with Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

"We have a better chance at improving quality of life and sustaining quality of life," Koppel said.

The new research also found evidence of cerebrovascular disease in the brains of those more likely to progress. This means the same cholesterol plaques that clog brain arteries, and lead to strokes, also increases the odds of Alzheimer's progression.

"It's very important to identify patients with high blood pressure, diabetes and atrial fibrillation," Koppel said. "Any illness that might contribute to cerebrovascular disease should be picked up in patients as quickly as possible and be treated to decrease the likelihood that they'll progress to Alzheimer's disease."

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