The Trouble With Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

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Doctors say the symptoms commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease can often come from other causes. For example, brain tissue damage after a stroke can result in an individual with a very similar outlook as an Alzheimer’s patient. Also, as reported on the CNN Health blog, there are at least five different kinds of brain lesions, which are all independent of each other but all are capable of producing a form of dementia similar to Alzheimer’s.

The result of this ambiguity is that about half of those told they have Alzheimer’s are actually dealing with a different type of dementia.

That sounds like a shocking number, but the effect of the misdiagnoses is actually fairly minimal. The drugs prescribed to attempt to treat Alzheimer’s have been shown to work for other forms of dementia too so patients aren’t being given the wrong medications or missing out on a viable treatment option.

Where this could potentially be a huge problem is in developing a more effective treatment of Alzheimer’s. Because it is so difficult to correctly diagnose who has it, it becomes increasingly difficult to test the effectiveness of a treatment. That means something experts were optimistic about after trials may actually only help those with a different form of dementia.

And experts now fear that diagnosing the correct form of dementia may be quite difficult while a patient is still alive.

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