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The Little Known Role of Nuclear Medicine in Diagnosis of Dementia

GE Healthcare took Beth Britton, a prominent dementia campaigner, writer and blogger, to visit Birmingham City Hospital to find out more about the role of

GE Healthcare took Beth Britton, a prominent dementia campaigner, writer and blogger, to visit Birmingham City Hospital to find out more about the role of nuclear medicine in the diagnosis of dementia.

Many of us have heard of MRI and CT as medical imaging techniques for looking at the brain, but few are familiar with PET and SPECT scans – yet these are commonly used in the field of nuclear medicine to help diagnose well-known neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Even if we are aware of ‘positron emission tomography’ (PET) and ‘single photon emission computed tomography’ (SPECT), do we really know what the patient goes through when receiving these scans? GE Healthcare took Beth Britton, a prominent dementia campaigner, writer and blogger, to visit Birmingham City Hospital to find out more.

Hosted by Dr Alp Notghi, President-Elect of the British Nuclear Medicine Society, Beth, whose father lived with vascular dementia for 19 years, was given a tour of the hospital’s nuclear medicine facilities. Beth’s goal was to understand more about brain imaging and the patient pathway from initial presentation and referral through to diagnosis.

Vascular dementia is caused by problems in supplying blood-flow to the brain. Beth’s father went 10 years without being accurately diagnosed. This visit was an opportunity for Beth to learn about the process her father may have gone through when he was eventually diagnosed and to learn what progress has been made in the diagnosis pathway for dementia in recent years.

Dr Notghi talked through the diagnostic process for patients experiencing potential symptoms of dementia.  Patients with early signs may see their general practitioner, who might refer them to a neurologist. The neurologist may order an initial CT (Computed Tomography) and/or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan to understand the anatomical and structural health of the patient’s brain, before potentially referring him or her to a specialized nuclear medicine team.

Despite its impact in supporting accurate and confident diagnoses, the capabilities of nuclear medicine imaging are still relatively unknown.  In the UK, for example, Dr Notghi told us that there are only around 60 PET scanners. To put the nuclear medicine facility at Birmingham City Hospital into context, he explained that there were 10,000 patients referred to his department each year, compared with 150,000 patients undergoing X-ray and CT procedures.

Differentiating between different forms of dementia can be very complicated, and Dr Notghi’s team aims to provide patients with confident diagnoses using an array of nuclear medicine techniques.

For decades, GE Healthcare has produced diagnostic scanners, imaging agents and software to help physicians see inside the brain and support better patient management. The company takes a comprehensive approach to understanding a broad range of neurological disorders through its diagnostic technologies and ongoing research to uncover the causes, risks and physical effects of these conditions.

Between 2010 and 2020 GE Healthcare will invest more than $500 million into researching neurological disorders. The investment focuses on developing new neurology solutions, educating consumers and expanding research already in progress.

Beth founded the D4Dementia Blog in May 2012 and is renowned for her work campaigning on health and social issues for older people. She participated in the G8 Dementia Summit in December 2013, and was invited to Downing Street to meet UK Prime Minster David Cameron. She is also very active on Twitter; to follow her, please click here.

GE Healthcare, in collaboration with neurology experts, has created the GE MIND app. This app aims to provide mobile support to patients and caregivers of those affected by neurological disorders through engaging activities around the arts. To download this app, please click here.

More Information

Beth Britton Twitter

D4Dementia Blog

GE MIND App