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A lot of patients are misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease, when they actually have frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Patients who are misdiagnosed are hospitalized and receive drugs for the wrong disease. Early diagnosis of FTD can have a tremendous impact on the patients and their family members–1/3 of FTD patients have a family history of a similar disorder.

FTD is the common cause for the onset of dementia among people 45-64 years-old. Like Alzheimer’s, it takes years to develop and at present is incurable. Dementia experts often misdiagnose FTD as Alzheimer’s because the symptoms are similar.

Researchers recently have begun to use PET scans of patients injected with flourodeoxyglucose (FDG), a short-lived radioactive form of sugar. FTD shows low brain activity in the frontal portion of the brain, while Alzheimer’s patients had low activity in the back portion of the brain.

Researchers examined the medical records of 45 patients who were given FDG-PET scans. After the death of the patients their brains were examined; 31 had Alzheimer’s, 14 had FTD.

Experts who examined the 45 patients and used traditional clinical diagnoses correctly called the form of dementia 76-79% of the time. When experts relied on FDG-PET scans for their diagnosis their accuracy shot up to 90%.

Medicare has recently agreed to pay for FDG-PET scans to evaluate dementia. Unfortunately, some medical insurance companies have not deemed the process necessary and refuse to pay for the procedure.