Diagnosing cognitive decline in patients may have just gotten easier.  Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the new imaging drug, Amyvid.  

This drug is used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imagining scans of the brain in patients who are being tested for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline.  It allows medical professionals to identify the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain, which experts believe is the cause of Alzheimer’s.   

Amyvid will be used to help rule out the development of Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia, the FDA explains, as these patients always “have an increased brain content of plaque.”  In the past, the only way to identify these plaques was to carry out a biopsy or during autopsy.   

However, the press release explains this test may also come back positive in patients who have other types of neurological conditions and older patients who suffer no cognitive impairment.  While researchers believe all Alzheimer’s patients have these plaques, not everyone with these plaques has Alzheimer’s.  Nevertheless, researchers say this drug will allow them to better study this plaque and how to treat it.  

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains it is the most common form of dementia in older adults, with 5 million estimated to have it in the U.S.  This disease impacts the parts of the brain which control decision making, thinking, and memory, seriously disrupting patients’ ability to function normally.  

Unfortunately, scientists still do not yet understand all the factors that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s, though age and family history are identified as two major ones.  Other possible contributors to this disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  

What Amyvid will not do is predict the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s or help monitor patient response to treatments.  Furthermore, the FDA notes Amyvid does not act as a replacement for other diagnostic tests “used in the evaluation of cognitive impairment.”    

The press release explains that common side effects to this medication include “headache, musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and nausea.”  Other safety concerns are the risk of radiation and dangers “associated with image misinterpretation.”   

Nevertheless, this drug offers doctors a greater understanding of a disease which has no cure and can take such a huge toll on families.  Furthermore, with the aging baby boomer population, doctors expect an explosion of new Alzheimer’s patients in the future.  However, with the approval of this drug, medical professionals have another tool to help the millions that will develop this disease in the coming years.