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MRI Can Identify Alzheimer's, Other Dementia

Specialized technology may take the guesswork out of diagnosis

SATURDAY, June 18, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say an MRI technology called arterial spin labeling can distinguish between Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), another common form of cognitive decline that's often confused with Alzheimer's.

Investigators at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) used arterial spin labeling to measure blood flow in the brains of people with Alzheimer's and FTD. The study was presented Saturday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C.

"Blood flow indicates brain activation. So the area with less blood flow is the area affected by disease," study leader Norbert Schuff, a principal investigator at SFVAMC and an associate professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a prepared statement.

Arterial spin labeling successfully distinguished between FTD patients, Alzheimer's patients and people with no dementia.

FTD, the second most common dementia after Alzheimer's disease, affects the front part of the brain. Alzheimer's mainly affects other brain areas, such as the temporal lobe and hippocampus. People in the early stages of both diseases display similar symptoms.

"Progression of frontotemporal dementia is usually faster than Alzheimer's, and the underlying pathology is different, so it is important to know the difference," Schuff said.

Currently, positron emission tomography (PET) and single proton emission computerized tomography (SPECT) can be used to measure brain blood flow. But these techniques require that patients be injected with radioactive tracers. They are also expensive, can take up to half a day to perform, and are not widely available.

"So if you can acquire blood flow information with MRI, that would be very beneficial. MRI is totally noninvasive, making it much safer for patients. It's more widely available, it's cheaper, and arterial spin labeling can be done in 10 minutes together with a conventional MRI scan," Schuff said.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about dementia.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, June 18, 2005
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