Until now, only an autopsy could determine absolutely whether or not a person had Alzheimer’s disease. But new technology, a brain scan that will show the characteristic plaques that identify Alzheimer’s, is available and waiting for FDA approval. An FDA advisory committee that studied the methodology of the new test has recommended that the dye (made by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals) necessary for the PET scan be approved by the FDA.

This test, if approved, could be available in less than a year. If doctors learn how to interpret it, the test results could increase their confidence in diagnosing (as well as ruling out) Alzheimer’s, lead to speedier accurate patient diagnoses (when there is no plaque found), and may benefit families of patients who currently feel like they’re in limbo, not knowing what kinds of plans they need to make for their family member with dementia. If it’s deemed safe (and FDA approval would indicate that it is), it could help with some of the toughest decisions we have to make for family members as they age- but before it is approved and we see how physicians, patients, and families utilize it, it is too early to imagine all of the implications.

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