These guidelines are particularly timely, Carrillo said, because most patients with dementia are 65 and older, and an advisory committee of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will be considering this topic on Jan. 30 to decide whether or not the cost of these scans will be covered under the programs.
PET scans can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 or more, she said.
"Amyloid imaging is appropriate for select use and is really limited to increase certainty of a diagnosis when there are uncertain conditions," Carrillo said. In these cases, imaging helps because it can aid the doctor in deciding what treatment should be given, she said.
For patients with persistent or progressing memory or thinking problems, the test can increase the certainty that they are dealing with an Alzheimer's type of dementia.
If there is no plaque in the brain, the doctor should then look for other causes of the problem such as small strokes or another type of dementia, she said.
Although little effective treatment for Alzheimer's exists, it's important for patients to know what they are dealing with, Carrillo said. "For us as a patient advocacy group, that's critical," she said. Many people are relieved to know even if it's a bad diagnosis, she said.
"What comes with that is not only the relief, but the beginning of not only a medical plan, but planning for the future," Carrillo said. "Even talking about the possibility of joining a clinical trial," she said.
Until recently, amyloid brain scans have mostly been used in research to determine which patients can be part of clinical trials and whether or not treatments are having results.
"These are the first guidelines for clinical use of amyloid imaging," said Dr. Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, in New York City.
This has been coming since 2002, but now the promise has been realized an
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