Two recent findings show that Alzheimer’s disease is often misdiagnosed, potentially causing unnecessary stress for those who don’t have the disease but are told they do, and treatment delays for others.
While there is no cure or successful medication for Alzheimer’s disease, a correct diagnosis is critical because certain medications can help slow the disease’s progression and prolong quality of life. Experts say that getting a diagnosis early gives patients time to prepare for their end-of-life treatment.
“There are drugs that are beneficial for at least a short amount of time that can be given at a very early stage and possibly boost memory,” said Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Planning your care and finances is extremely important,” he said. “With a correct diagnosis people can also be put into a clinical trial to see if new drugs will work.”
The signs of Alzheimer’s disease are used to make a diagnosis. There is currently no blood test or imaging test that can accurately diagnose the disorder, which is why misdiagnoses occur. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s disease is a much more complicated disease than previously believed, making a definitive diagnosis far more difficult. However, according to Hartley, progress is being made in discovering better ways to diagnose the disease.
The first study, led by Melissa Murray of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., discovered that men are more likely to be misdiagnosed.
One explanation may be that men in the study developed Alzheimer’s disease at a younger age and had a more aggressive type of the disease than women. Alzheimer’s disease struck men in their 60s, while it struck women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, according to Murray, an assistant professor of neuroscience.
Men and women seemed to have Alzheimer’s disease in various parts of the brain. This may explain why men are misdiagnosed more often than women, Murray said, because men’s symptoms vary from women’s. Instead of the memory issues associated with Alzheimer’s, she said men’s symptoms may be mental, language difficulties, or motor problems.
“Age and sex interact,” Murray said.
The brain bank of the state of Florida was used in this analysis. The researchers looked at the minds of over 1,600 Alzheimer’s patients. The ages of the participants ranged from 37 to 102.
Murray indicated that diagnosis is necessary so that people can prepare their finances and end-of-life wishes.
In the second report, researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, looked at differences between clinical and autopsy diagnosis in over 1,000 individuals in the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center database.
“Even with all the latest diagnostic methods, the discrepancy between the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and the pathological diagnosis is about 20 percent,” said senior researcher adjunct scientist Dr. David Munoz.
Munoz and his colleagues discovered that in the clinic, 78 percent of the patients had a valid diagnosis, which was subsequently verified in a brain autopsy. Nearly 11% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the clinic, on the other hand, did not have the condition. Also, almost 11% of people who were not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have the disorder.
The researchers discovered that those wrongly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease had other disorders that explained their symptoms, such as Lewy body dementia, brain atrophy, and other forms of dementia.
According to the study’s authors, people with Alzheimer’s disease may also have had other forms of dementia, such as Parkinson’s disease dementia, vascular dementia, or Lewy body dementia.
The findings of both studies will be presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto on July 26. Meeting results are usually considered preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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