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Researcher at Duke leading study on cognitive impairment prediction

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P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke. P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke.
DURHAM, N.C. -

A researcher at Duke Hospitals is leading a new study that hopes to allow doctors to more accurately predict if a patient will develop cognitive impairments.

Researchers looked for the build up of a certain plaque in the brain using images taken after the body was injected with a radioactive dye.

"Our research found that healthy adults and those with mild memory loss who have a positive scan for these plaques have a much faster rate of decline on memory, language and reasoning over three years," said lead author P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke.

Duke medicine said the study consisted of 152 adults ages 50 and older and was designed to assess silent pathological changes in the brain using positron emission tomography.

PET imaging uses a radioactive tracer to look for chemical signs of disease in certain tissues, Duke Medicine said. Duke said scans are classified as positive or negative by researchers.

Of the study participants, 69 had normal cognitive function at the start of the study, 52 had been recently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and 31 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Duke said.

At the start of the study, participants completed cognitive tests and underwent PET scans of their brains, Duke said.

After 36 months, the researchers repeated the same cognitive exams to reassess the study subjects, Duke said.

Researchers said those with mild or no cognitive impairment who had evidence of plaques at the trial's start worsened on cognitive tests as compared to those with negative scans.

"Having a negative scan could reassure people that they are not likely to be at risk for progression in the near future," Doraiswamy said.

A total of 90 percent of participants with mild cognitive impairment but no plaque did not progress to Alzheimer's, Duke Medicine said.

Doraiswamy said more studies are needed as the use of this radioactive dye is not approved to predict the development of dementia.

"Even though our study suggests the test has predictive value in normal adults, we still need additional evidence," Doraiswamy said. "We need longer-term studies to look at the consequences of silent brain plaque build-up, given that it affects 15 to 30 percent of normal older people."

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