PET scans help diagnosis Alzheimer's disease

FDA approved test not usually covered by insurance

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Tai chi is a great exercise for mind and body, but it couldn't protect Lilly Forney from Alzheimer's disease.

She was diagnosed four years ago at age 58.

"I said, 'Oh my God, please,'" recalled Forney.

PET scans revealed microscopic plaque on her brain.

"They're deposits of a protein called amyloid and specifically beta amyloid, and this protein sort of gums up with works within the brain," said Dr. Ranjan Duara.

The brain uses amyloid for physiological function, but too much becomes toxic. PET scans help doctors see how much may be present.

"You can use that to help you with a diagnosis," said Duara. "It can also help you determine whether a treatment that you're testing is working in removing amyloid."

While the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of PET scans for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, the cost of the test -- about $3,000 -- isn't typically covered by insurance.

"I guess one of the big debates is we don't really have a definitive cure for Alzheimer's disease," said Duara. "We don't even have a treatment that slows down the progression of the disease, so I guess the debate is really so if you know the diagnosis, so what."

With the help of her family, Forney does what she can to maintain her health and independence.

"I'm pretty functional. I'd be better functional if I didn't have it," she said.

PET scan testing will be discussed at a symposium on Alzheimer's disease held at 4833 Collins Ave. from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

About the Authors: