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New brain scan improves diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 5:58 PM CST
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. This disease robs you of your memory, thinking, and time.

With more than six million Americans living with this disease, and 57,000 people in Mississippi suffering from this type of dementia, WDAM wanted to help.

We sat down with the Director of the Memory Center at Hattiesburg Clinic, Dr. Ronald Schwartz. He said the first step to take when you start to notice memory changes is finding out what’s causing it.

“Historically to diagnose something like Alzheimer’s Disease you really had to look at an autopsy and look at your brain to see the pathological changes. These abnormal folded proteins. We call them amyloid plaques,” Schwartz explained.

Schwartz said in the past the only way to see these plaques was after you passed away. Doctors would take a look at your brain under a microscope. Now, with some technological advances over the last few years, Schwartz said those abnormal proteins in your brain can be detected earlier with the new PET scan machine.

“So, what this is it’s a nuclear medicine test where we inject a tracer which circulates through your brain and sticks to these abnormal proteins,” Schwartz said. “You see amyloid, which is the protein which triggers Alzheimer’s Disease, lights up on these PET scans.”

Schwartz explained the key issue is that these proteins begin building up in your brain for decades before you have any symptoms at all.

By the time you have some mild impairment, these abnormal amyloid proteins have been accumulating silently in your brain for 10 years, 20 years, even 30 years.

“The earlier you can get it evaluated and see these proteins that’s when you have the diagnosis. We call that a biomarker. So, you have a clinical manifestation which is memory loss, language problems, coming up with words or names, maybe some emotional changes, those are clinical presentations of what could be some early Alzheimer’s,” Schwartz said. The biological changes we talk about are biomarkers, now we can clarify exactly what is causing those mild symptoms if we see that you do have those abnormal proteins.”

If you have questions about the Memory Center at Hattiesburg Clinic or the PET scan tests call the Memory Center at 601-579-5016.

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