Christine Lee, NBC 5 Irving Reporter
A new technology now allows doctors to test patients for Alzheimer's. The selective process can detect the disease earlier, so patients can get treatment as soon as possible.
Doctors at Baylor Irving hope new technology can pave the way for earlier detection of Alzheimer's disease.
Select patients' brains can be scanned for amyloid plaque, which is associated with the neurological disorder. Previously, it could only be detected during autopsies.
"This is the first biomarker we have for determining if amyloid plaque is present in the brain," radiologist Dr. Michael Stewart said.
Doctors inject patients with a radioactive substance called Amyvid and can scan for the specific type of plaque.
"The test by itself is not enough to make a diagnosis, but the test plus your physical exam and your memory testing can diagnose Alzheimer's earlier," neurologist Dr. Karen Bontia said.
Patients can then seek treatment options as soon as possible.
Because the process is so selective, doctors at Baylor Irving have only tested a couple of patients since the test became available in June.
Each test using costs around $5,000.
Bontia said the technology also will allow doctors to gather more data for future developments.
Doctors say their primary focus is to slow the development of Alzheimer's disease and to diagnose it as early as possible.
One out of eight adults who are 65 years old will develop Alzheimer's disease. This year, 78 million baby boomers will be 65 years old.
Lee and Pat Sneller, who celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary on Sept. 5, have been fighting an uphill battle with the debilitating disease.
"Once I found out that I had Alzheimer's, I was devastated," said Lee Sneller, who was diagnosed on Feb. 6, 2009. "I mean, it was really, really hard. I didn't know what to do and how to deal with it."
More than three and a half years later, the ailment has taken its toll on him.
"He processes things so much more slowly," Pat Sneller said. "He is a smart guy. I mean, he went to Stanford, he's an engineer, he has an MBA, and he just can't process it anymore."
The couple agreed that early detection is key and said they hope others diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease can benefit from the future developments.
"If we can delay the onset of it by five years, billions of dollars can be saved -- billions in our health care," Stewart said.