New research: More than half of Alzheimer’s cases misdiagnosed

alzheimer's cases

A study found that the brains of 50 percent of the people diagnosed with Alzheimer's lacked the lesions associated with the disease. Image: CC Wikimedia Commons

Alzheimer’s disease is easily misdiagnosed, and that happens quite often, according to new research. Nearly half of the subjects with Alzheimer’s diagnoses examined in a study didn’t have the degree of brain lesions commonly associated with the disease. Researchers said an expected increase in Alzheimer’s cases and advances in treatment makes it critical that doctors correctly diagnose the condition.

The Alzheimer’s diagnosis study

Researchers concluded that doctors in the U.S. have a tendency to misdiagnose Alzheimer’s. The researchers performed autopsies on 426 Japanese-American men in Hawaii who lived to the average age of 87. Among those men, 211 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in their later years. However, when doctors examined their brains, only about 50 percent of the men diagnosed with Alzheimers had the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles expected to be seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers also found that the degree of Alzheimer’s misdiagnosis increased with the age when the patient was diagnosed.

Alzheimer’s diagnosis based on symptoms

Alzheimer’s patients usually start noticing symptoms after age 60. Alzheimer’s symptoms affecting memory, thinking and behavior get worse over time. Risk factors for Alzheimer’s include age and family history. Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s may include a history of head trauma such as concussions and chronic high blood pressure. Females also have a greater tendency to develop Alzheimer’s than males. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t fully understood. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is made by observing symptoms. But as the study has proven, the only way to know for certain if someone has Alzheimer’s is to analyze the brain tissue after death.

Bracing for a wave of Alzheimer’s

The authors of the Alzheimer’s study said a dramatic increase in cases of dementia is expected in the U.S. in the next 10 years as baby boomers grow older. As new therapies are developed to slow and reverse cognitive decline, further studies are needed to help figure out how to correctly recognize Alzheimer’s and other forms of age-related dementia.



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