MRI scans are a more accurate predictor for Alzheimer’s disease than the current clinical questionnaires, according to a new study. This research was recently done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills. The disease affects 5.5 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The current standardized questionnaires test for the APOE4 gene, which is a variant associated with a higher risk for Alzheimer’s. However, the Mini-mental State Examination and APOE4 gene testing only have accuracy rates of about 70 – 71 percent. Consequently, many people who will develop Alzheimer’s fall through the testing cracks.
MRI Scans: High Accuracy For Diagnosing Alzheimer’s
On the other hand, MRI scans in this study showed an accuracy rate of 89%.
This MRI uses diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain’s white matter. The scan looks for water movement along the brain’s white matter tracts. A high score indicates that water is moving unimpeded to its target area, while a low score indicates probable damage and obstruction along the tract pathway.
These white matter tracts are the telephone cables of the brain and transmit information such as memory and cognition.
MRI Scans: Study Results
61 people were given the MRI scan. These participants were drawn from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a major, multisite study focusing on the progression of the disease.
50% of the patients went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and DTI identified differences in the brains of those patients.
People who developed the disease had lower brain white matter scores suggesting white matter damage. They also had statistically significant reductions in certain frontal white matter tracts.
In addition, the researchers did a detailed analysis of white matter tract in 40 study participants. In these patients, the MRI scan was 95% accurate.
These results suggest that MRI scans using DTI can be a valuable early detection diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s. It could speed interventions that slow the course of the disease or even delay its onset.