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Rampant Misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

Understanding the Problem Older Americans Face When Seeking a Diagnosis for Alzheimer’s

elderly man with alzheimers sitting thinking

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.

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

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.

Why Is It So Hard to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease?

According to a 2013 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.

Misdiagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease Is Fairly Common

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Florida say they have identified a subtype variant of the disease, complicating things even more.

A more recent report from May 2015 from a research team, led by Dr. Melissa Murray, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic, says their study suggests that around 600,000 Americans may have this variant, which they call “hippocampal sparing” Alzheimer’s disease.

Bottom line:  Alzheimer’s disease does not necessarily equate to loss of memory.  Dr. Murray further notes that because many of these patients have a “near normal” memory ability, they are often misdiagnosed.

Can Alzheimer’s Be Cured?

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.

Have You Been Misdiagnosed? Get Help Today.

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. The attorneys at Theodoros & Rooth are standing by to give you the representation you need.