ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., March 21, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- AMITA Health is offering a unique opportunity for Medicare recipients with mild memory loss, cognitive impairment or dementia to undergo at minimal expense a diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease that usually costs thousands of dollars.
The health system is participating in the Imaging Dementia-Evidence for Amyloid Scanning (IDEAS) Study, which seeks to determine how the use of a positron emission tomography (PET) brain scan affects the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. This type of PET scan can reveal the presence of amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer's.
Sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association and managed by the American College of Radiology and its Imaging Network, the study will help the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services determine whether Medicare should cover amyloid PET scans. The scans, which usually cost $8,000 to $10,000, are not covered by Medicare and rarely are covered by private insurance.
"We're encouraging anyone who thinks that they or their loved ones could benefit from this test -- or any doctor who has a patient who could benefit -- to take advantage of this unique opportunity," said Alexis Barbour-Florczak, AMITA Health associate vice president, neuroscience service line. "You can avoid paying thousands of dollars out of pocket, and the scan can let you know early on if there is evidence of Alzheimer's. If you don't get in before this window closes, it could be years before Medicare determines whether they are going to cover these scans. Now is the time to act."
"IDEAS enrollment will end when the study reaches its nationwide target of 18,488 completed amyloid PET scans," said Uta Tichawa, an adult-geriatric nurse practitioner who is managing the IDEAS program at AMITA Health. "The system, one of the first healthcare providers in Illinois to join the study, has enrolled 85 of its allotted 500 patients, so more than 400 openings still remain," Tichawa said.
"While Medicare will reimburse providers participating in IDEAS for the cost of the scans, patients in the study are responsible for any co-pays or deductibles," Tichawa said. "If somebody only has Medicare, with no supplemental insurance, their out-of-pocket cost would be about $300," she said.
The scans are minimally invasive, with patients receiving an injection of a positron-emitting radionuclide, or tracer, before undergoing the scan. The scanning equipment then tracks the presence of the tracer, which adheres only to amyloid plaque cells in the brain. To be eligible for an IDEAS scan, a person must be 65 or older, use Medicare as his or her primary health insurance, and have mild cognitive impairment or dementia, the cause of which is unclear even after a comprehensive assessment by a dementia specialist. Candidates for the study also must have undergone an MRI and/or CT scan of the head within the two years preceding an amyloid PET scan, and must undergo blood tests to rule out physiological conditions that can cause memory loss. Neuropsychological testing also is required.
Two AMITA Health neurologists and memory disorder specialists – Concetta Forchetti, M.D., Ph.D., and Ajay Sood, M.D., Ph.D. – are spearheading the IDEAS Study for the system, with amyloid PET scans occurring at AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center Elk Grove Village. Candidates for the study do not have to be a patient of Dr. Forchetti or Dr. Sood to be evaluated for a scan; they simply can be referred by their own physician to either neurologist. "We don't take over any care or medication management unless the patient wants us to do so," Barbour-Florczak said.
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, and most of them are 65 or older, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., killing more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. The number of people with Alzheimer's is expected to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation continues to age.
Research shows that Alzheimer's starts to develop years before its symptoms appear. Although no cure exists for Alzheimer's, early diagnosis of the disease can lead to drug and non-drug treatments that can slow cognitive and behavioral decline and improve a patient's quality of life.
While an amyloid PET scan can produce an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's, it also can exclude the disease as a cause of mild cognitive impairment or dementia, helping to guide patient care more effectively. "Recent studies show that patients may be misdiagnosed up to 30 percent of the time," said Gil Rabinovici, M.D., an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and the principal investigator for the IDEAS Study. "Having an accurate diagnosis may not only open up new avenues for care, including enrollment in clinical trials, but it also helps patients and their families to adequately plan for the future."
IDEAS scans performed at AMITA Health already have enabled Dr. Forchetti and Dr. Sood to diagnose Alzheimer's in some patients whose memory loss had been seen previously as a normal effect of aging. For other patients, the reverse has proven true. "We have had a couple of women whose memory loss was shown not to be related to dementia or Alzheimer's," Tichawa said. "It was actually related to seizure activity."
Tichawa encourages Medicare recipients to be evaluated for an IDEAS scan as soon as they notice symptoms of memory loss, such as regularly misplacing car keys, cell phones, wallets and purses, struggling with balancing a checkbook, or getting lost while driving. "The sooner Alzheimer's can be identified, the better the treatment options we have," she said.
Patients or physicians interested in scheduling an evaluation for an IDEAS scan should contact Tichawa at 847.981.3630 or Uta.Tichawa@amitahealth.org. Additional information about the IDEAS Study can be found at www.ideas-study.org.
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SOURCE AMITA Health