VA North Texas Health Care System
Aging Veterans at risk for Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease is among the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. Currently around 45 percent of all Veterans in the VA health care system are age 65 or older. In the local VA network which includes north, central, south and Valley Coastal Bend areas of Texas, more than 3,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed annually.
Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease requires careful medical evaluation, including:
- A thorough medical history
- Mental status testing
- A physical and neurological exam
- Tests (such as blood tests and brain imaging) to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms
Alzheimer's is a cruel disease for the patient and family members and friends who love them.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but research continues to find effective treatments. In 1997, Dallas VA Medical Center was the first VA in the Nation to make donepezil available for Veterans diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Donepezil is a drug used to improve memory and thinking, but does not slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. It is now the leading dementia medication used in the world.
Through cooperative inter-service efforts of Nuclear Medicine and Mental Health, Dallas VA recently passed another milestone, becoming the first VA in the United States to employ the latest technology in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Last year, the FDA approved a unique combination of elements, Florbetapir F18 that allows imaging of beta-amyloid deposits in the living brain. The build-up of beta-amyloid protein in the brain has long been one of the key features for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, but until now, this was only done after death at autopsy.
Drs. Irfan Farukhi and Rosinda Castanon (Nuclear Medicine) along with Dr. Kevin Gray (Mental Health) utilized this brand new compound to solve a difficult diagnostic puzzle and confirm if a Veteran has Alzheimer's disease. And they also developed the very first clinical practice flow diagram to help guide "best use" of this new imaging technique to ensure optimal use of VA resources going forward.
Florbetapir cannot by itself diagnose Alzheimer's disease, but a negative scan virtually rules out the possibility that memory loss or confusion is due to Alzheimer's changes in the brain.
These VA providers are confident that health care outcomes for Veterans suffering from Alzheimer's disease will improve as new strategies for early detection and diagnosis continue to evolve and more effective treatments emerge.