Interviewer: Is there a definite distinction between Alzheimer's and other
types of dementia? From what I've heard, you can't really tell until you
physically study the brain. So how do they go about diagnosing one?
Mary T. Newport, MD: By ruling out other causes and looking at typical
symptoms. There is a lot of overlap. Someone, for example, who starts with
Parkinson's disease can also develop Alzheimer's, and people with
Alzheimer's can, as time goes on, develop symptoms of Parkinson's. It
starts in a specific area of the brain and that's what they can see on an
MRI, for example. In 2008, Steve had an MRI that showed that hippocampus
and amygdale areas of the brain had moderate to severe atrophy, and those
are the areas that are associated with Alzheimer's.
If somebody has, for example, frontal temporal lobe dementia, they might be
able to see more atrophy in that area of the brain and there may be a
protein they can measure, or other things that can help to at looking at
symptoms. People with Lewy body disease will have trouble with sleep and
they're hypersensitive to certain medications and, you know, they have
specific symptoms. But over time, the pathology of the brain tends to
spread into other areas and so they develop other symptoms as well
consistent with some of these other diseases. So there's a lot of overlap.