Latest reports on memory loss studies have made a startling new discovery: it is now possible to distinguish between memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
In a collaborative effort between UCLA and colleagues at the Washington University in St. Louis, researchers discovered that the use of MRI scans can help distinguish between the two types of memory loss. By establishing several key differentiators between both Alzheimer’s disease and TBI-induced memory loss, professionals believe that this is the latest great development in the field.
Why is the development important?
According to the researchers involved in the study, the findings of the collaborative effort are important because they’re one great step forward in counteracting the pressing issue of misdiagnosis.
For decades, the misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has been a critical factor in devastating narratives for the families of those who experience memory loss because of the different implications such mistakes bear. The problem of misdiagnosis is so prevalent that one study found that as many as 21 percent of older adults with dementia may be misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease based on the presence of memory loss alone. Unfortunately, this simple oversight can result in various complications that hinder affected patients from receiving the appropriate treatment—worsening their condition in the process.
The scope of the findings (and the numbers they represent)
Based on the findings of the central study that were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the pool of subjects used to trial the discretion effectiveness of MRI scans was representative of the affected demographics.
For starters, the researchers generated results from a testing pool of 40 UCLA patients with an average age of just under 68. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.87 million Americans experienced TBI in 2014, with the rates highest for people age 75 or older—making the testing pool rather accurate with minimal external interference.
In terms of choosing the medium for discernment, the medical professionals settled on using MRI scanners as the main tool for experimentation because of its proven track record. According to Dr. Somayeh Meysami, lead author and a postdoctoral clinical research fellow in cognitive and behavioral neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, “We already knew that MRIs can reveal subtle abnormalities in patients with neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.” Further solidifying the relevance of their choice, Dr. Meysami states that “the purpose of our study was to evaluate whether MRI also could reveal distinct abnormalities in traumatic brain injury. And, if we could identify such a pattern, it would lead to improved diagnosis of TBI-related memory loss from other causes of dementia.”
How the study led to a clearer distinction between TBI and Alzheimer’s-induced memory loss
After the pool of 40 UCLA memory loss patients was scanned using an MRI, the researchers began to analyze each scan for key details that would help differentiate and establish defining factors.
Using a software program to analyze the MRI scans, the study revealed that TBI caused the most damage to a brain region known as the ventral diencephalon—with the least amount of atrophy occurring in the hippocampus. This is relevant because the ventral diencephalon is associated with learning and emotions, which are two specific parts of the brain linked to experiences with TBI. Conversely, the hippocampus is the region of the brain that is most impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
Although memory loss misdiagnoses were a problem because of the higher risks of error involved, modern MRI technology poses a new opportunity for more accurate treatments. Through the help of the research team mentioned above, it is possible to attain a more effective and accurate treatment approach to seeking treatment for memory loss, regardless if it’s caused by Alzheimer’s or a TBI!
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