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Rampant Misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

Not all memory loss in older adults is Alzheimer’s. Until recently only an autopsy could reveal whether the decedent was suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or some other neurological disorder that causes such profound and deteriorating disorientation. Because diagnosis is so difficult, somewhere between 50–80 percent of dementia in older adults is Alzheimer’s, but the exact percentage is currently unknown.

The aging process brings with it two significant changes in the brain. These changes become pathological in Alzheimer’s patients:

  • Plaques ― Deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells.
  • Tangles ― Twisted fibers of another protein called tau that build up inside cells.

According to a new study by the Eli Lilly Company, nearly one in five adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s doesn’t actually have it. The study was released to support Lilly’s campaign to have Medicare authorize payment for use of its imaging agent Amyvid, which was approved by the FDA last year.

Using positron emission tomography, or PET, along with Amyvid, can now reveal the deposits of beta-amyloid in the brain, one of the two telltale physiological signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

To complicate the issue further, however, at least 20 to 30 percent of patients who have amyloid plaques in their brains show no symptoms of cognitive impairment. So the predictive value of Amyvid is questionable, hence the reluctance within Medicare to pick up the tab for another expensive procedure.

Currently there are no treatments for Alzheimer’s disease although pharmaceutical companies are racing to find drugs that will at least slow the progress of the disease if intervention is initiated early, before there has been significant brain damage.

Misdiagnosis can be a shocking and emotionally devastating experience for the patient and the family. Seek counsel immediately from experienced attorneys who understand medical malpractice and the sub-issue of misdiagnosis to protect you and your family’s rights.