How do seniors react to amyloid-PET results?

By Wayne Forrest, AuntMinnie.com contributing writer

October 25, 2017 -- When told that PET scans have revealed elevated levels of beta-amyloid plaque in their brains, senior citizens feel frustrated and ask for more information about their chances of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published online October 23 in JAMA Neurology.

The findings come from University of Pennsylvania researchers who interviewed 50 individuals 65 years of age and older who had enrolled into the A4 trial, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The subjects were enrolled in the study based on PET scans showing elevated levels of amyloid.

The researchers found that approximately half of the seniors expected elevated amyloid levels on their PET scans, based on a family history of Alzheimer's or a recent experience with memory problems. They also understood that there was a higher, but not certain, risk of developing Alzheimer's dementia. A smaller percentage mistakenly believed that they had no increased risk of dementia or that they had a 100% chance of developing the condition.

"Clinicians who give these results to people should be prepared to explain how and why measurements of amyloid are termed 'elevated' and what that means in terms of Alzheimer's dementia risk," said Dr. Jason Karlawish, study co-author and co-director of the Penn Memory Center, in a release from the university.

For now, disclosing amyloid-PET results to cognitively normal adults is something that occurs only in experimental contexts such as the A4 trial, Karlawish added.

"In the future, learning this kind of information will be a normal part of going to the doctor, like finding out you have a high cholesterol level," he said. "The challenge is to anticipate what it will be like for seniors to learn this, and to develop effective strategies to help them cope with problems that may result, such as being stigmatized socially or losing their usual sense of well-being."


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