Detecting Lewy body dementia using heart scans
Research supported by the Newcastle BRC gathers evidence on the accuracy of a heart scan for diagnosing Lewy body dementia at its earliest stages.
Funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) and supported by the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (Newcastle BRC), a team led by Professor Alan Thomas of Newcastle University, compared brain scan data with heart scans to examine the feasibility of heart scans being used to pick up on the earliest indicators of dementia with Lewy bodies.
The importance of an accurate dementia diagnosis
For patients diagnosed with dementia, determining the exact type of dementia at the earliest stage is crucial to ensuring that the right support can be given, helping to delay the onset of some of the most severe symptoms.
The results, published today in Neurology (8 June), found that in most cases, both tests show the same results, picking up around two out of three early cases of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with Lewy bodies, the pre-dementia phase of dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). If either scan is abnormal, clinicians can be confident that the patient does have Lewy body disease.
Lead author for the study, Dr Gemma Roberts commented:
“This research will support doctors working in memory clinics who urgently need to know whether it is useful or not to send people for scans”.
Determining next steps for dementia diagnosis
Often, people showing only mild problems with thinking and memory (not severe enough to be called dementia) may not be sent for scans. Current NICE guidelines only cover dementia, so there is no official advice on whether doctors in the UK should refer people with MCI for tests of this kind.
This research suggests however, that in many cases Lewy body disease, can be detected at the MCI stage through a heart scan. From here, doctors in memory clinics will be able to determine if further investigations or follow-up are necessary.
Dr Roberts added:
“The heart scan option is more cost effective and quicker than a brain scan, yet we have been able to show that it proves very effective in providing sufficient diagnostic data”.
The accuracy of the two tests is very similar, yet the heart scan has the potential to reduce NHS costs and make it easier for patients to get a diagnosis.
Independent of the scans, the team had a panel of international dementia experts assess each patient and come to a consensus on whether they had Lewy body disease or Alzheimer’s disease. These expert diagnoses were used to test the findings of both brain and heart scans.
Many doctors are unaware of the heart scan option, even though it is included in the International Guidelines on diagnosing dementia with Lewy bodies. The next steps therefore, are to apply for funding to disseminate the work and address barriers to using the scan in clinical practice.
Roberts, G., Durcan, R., Donaghy, P., Lawley, S., Ciafone, J., Hamilton, C., Colloby, S., Firbank, M., Allan, L., Barnett, N., Barker, S., Howe, K., Ali, T., Petrides, G., Lloyd, J., Taylor, J., O’Brien, J. and Thomas, A., 2021, in: Accuracy of Cardiac Innervation Scintigraphy for Mild Cognitive Impairment With Lewy Bodies.