HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It is a disease that has no cure, affects 5.4 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
How do you put a dent in Alzheimer's Disease? Hattiesburg Clinic Neurologist Dr. Ronald Schwartz said you get ahead of it.
"Getting the diagnoses right is always going to be the key," Schwartz said.
He and the clinic are doing this by offering a new study for Alzheimer's disease.
Schwartz said the Hattiesburg Clinic Memory Center is the only facility within 500 miles to offer this largest brain amyloid scanning research study, called IDEAS, which is the Imaging Dementia-Evidence for Amyloid Scanning.
As the director of the memory center, Schwartz said its goal is to diagnose the disease sooner, but over the last few years that has meant a hefty price tag for patients.
"Medicare will pay for the test," Schwartz said.
If you are a Medicare patient and can fit the guidelines of this test, the scans from the procedure can show Schwartz if you have amyloid plaque build up in your brain.
"The idea is that amyloid is the pathology that we think triggers Alzheimer's changes," Schwartz said.
But neurologists could not see the plaque until now, and this is thanks to the new tracers that can be injected into a patient's system. The tracer will stick to the amyloid plaque making it visible on the PET scans.
"The algorithm will be a dividing point, either you have Alzheimer's or you don't," Schwartz said.
If you do not have the disease, Schwartz said he will clearly see the dark and white matter tracks of your brain on the scans, and clearly see the cortex of your brain which should not have amyloid plaque build up.
If you do have the disease, he said there will not be a distinction between white matter and gray matter.
"It's just a blurred out gray white junction between the two areas, so a positive scan is filled up with amyloid plaque," Schwartz said.
Schwartz said these scans are essential to the study which will involve collecting data from 18,000 people for two years. Schwartz said this could improve healthcare outcomes, reduce misdiagnoses and find the right treatment for those with Alzheimer's Disease.
If you or a loved one are medicare patients and 65 years old or older, and you think you may have Alzheimer's disease, dementia or any mild cognitive impairment, call the Hattiesburg Clinic Memory Center at this number: 601-579-5016. Visit the IDEAS website for the full list of requirements to enroll in this study.