How Will My Doctor Use A Head CT Scan To Diagnose Dementia Or Alzheimer’s Disease?
When you or someone you love is having trouble with memory, thinking, and emotions, your doctor will recommend some tests, just to better understand your trouble.
Each diagnostic test gives your doctor a different piece of important information they’ll use to care for your health and well-being.
A CT scan can reveal recent changes to a person’s brain.
So if you or a loved one are talking with a doctor about the possibility of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, a CT scan may help.
What is a CT scan and how does it work?
A CT scan, or Computed Tomography scan, is a type of imaging technique that uses X-rays to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
Unlike a regular X-ray that produces a single image, a CT scan provides a series of images from different angles, allowing doctors to view cross-sectional slices of the body.
A slice refers to the number of detectors in the scanner. CTs range from 8 slices to 640 slices. The higher the slices, the quicker and more accurate the scan will be.
When applied to the brain, these images provide a comprehensive view of its structure and can assist doctors in identifying abnormal changes.
What can a CT scan reveal about brain changes?
CT scans are incredibly sensitive to changes in the brain's structure. They can reveal a wide variety of conditions including strokes, tumors, and injuries.
When it comes to dementia and Alzheimer's disease, a CT scan can show signs of brain shrinkage or atrophy, a common symptom of these disorders.
Can my doctor use a CT scan to diagnose if I might have dementia or Alzheimer’s?
While a CT scan alone cannot definitively diagnose dementia or Alzheimer's disease, it can certainly contribute significant insights to your doctor's overall evaluation.
Furthermore, the aforementioned signs of brain atrophy can support a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's when your doctor considers them alongside other clinical evaluations and cognitive tests.
Why do doctors recommend a CT scan for diagnosing people who might have dementia or Alzheimer's disease?
A CT scan offers a non-invasive, relatively quick method to visually inspect the brain's structure and identify abnormalities.
By excluding or confirming other potential causes, it aids in narrowing down the diagnosis to cognitive disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease, ultimately giving you a more targeted and effective treatment plan.
Preparing for your CT scan to help diagnose dementia
The prospect of undergoing a CT scan might be daunting, especially when it's being used to assess potential brain changes related to cognitive disorders.
Being well-prepared for your CT scan not only alleviates some of the stress but also ensures that the study goes smoothly.
What should I do before the CT scan appointment?
Before your CT scan appointment, your doctor will provide specific instructions tailored to your personal medical history and the purpose of the scan. Generally, you should maintain your normal routine unless otherwise instructed.
However, it's important for you to carefully follow your doctor’s preparation guidelines. This may involve guidelines about eating, drinking, and medication usage.
Before the scan, do I need to fast, and can I take my medicine like usual?
Depending on the specifics of your CT scan, you might be asked to fast for a few hours before the procedure. This is typically the case if contrast material is going to be used, which helps to highlight specific areas inside the body in the scan images.
As for medications, it's important to discuss all the medications you're currently taking with your doctor. In most cases, you can continue taking your prescribed medication as usual.
However, there might be exceptions, especially if you're taking medications for diabetes or certain types of blood thinners. Your doctor will guide you through this based on your individual case.
Is there anything specific I should bring or wear for my CT scan?
Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is recommended for a CT scan. Avoid clothes with zippers, belts, or any metal details, as these can interfere with the imaging.
In some cases, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown for the study.
Don't forget to bring your health insurance card and identification. If you've had previous brain scans from other clinics, it's beneficial to bring those along for comparison.
Also, if your doctor gave you a referral form or any other documents, remember to take those with you.
Should I tell the radiology tech about my existing health conditions?
Yes, it’s very important for you to disclose any existing health conditions, allergies, or if there's a chance you could be pregnant. This information could influence how the scan is performed, especially if contrast material is to be used.
Preparing for a CT scan to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease
Taking the time to prepare for your CT scan will make sure that you’re comfortable, that your scan is as quick as possible, and that your results are excellent.
Someone who has been having trouble with memory, thinking, or emotions might need to take a little extra time and a little more care before a CT.
Let’s take a closer look at everything you should do to get ready for your scan.
Am I allowed to eat and drink before my CT scan? Should I keep taking my medication?
Your doctor will always provide precise instructions based on your individual needs, so be sure to check with them first.
The guidelines for eating and drinking before a CT scan typically depend on whether contrast dye will be used. If it is, you may be asked to fast for a few hours before the scan.
As for medications, in most scenarios, you'll be able to continue taking them as usual. However, if you're on any medications such as diabetes drugs or certain blood thinners, be sure to discuss this with your doctor, as special instructions might apply.
Are there any precautions for individuals who might have advanced Alzheimer's?
People with advanced Alzheimer's might find the study confusing or unsettling, so extra care is required. It's helpful to bring along a familiar person to provide reassurance.
If the individual has difficulty lying still, or if they may experience anxiety or agitation, talk to the doctor beforehand. They may recommend a mild sedative to help make the process more comfortable.
If I have a loved one who may have Alzheimer’s, what can I do to support them before their CT scan?
Please help them adhere to the doctor's instructions about eating, drinking, and medication usage. Ensure they wear suitable clothing, free of metal, and bring along any required documents.
On an emotional level, reassure them about the study. Help them understand that the scan is painless and relatively quick.
You can also accompany them to the appointment for moral support, and if necessary, to provide any critical medical history to the healthcare team.
If I think my loved one has Alzheimer’s, should I take any additional steps to help them with their upcoming CT scan appointment?
Understanding and remembering instructions might be challenging for a person with potential Alzheimer's. Ensure that all instructions from the doctor are written down and that your loved one follows them accurately.
Remind them about their appointment and help with transportation, as needed. If they have any fears or anxiety, listen to their concerns and provide reassurance.
Having you there during the scan can give them comfort, and discussing their worries with the healthcare team can contribute to a more comfortable and supportive imaging experience.
The CT scan process for diagnosing dementia or Alzheimer's disease
Having a better understanding of what to expect during a CT scan can significantly ease any anxiety or uncertainty you may feel.
We'll guide you through the typical CT scan process for people who might have a cognitive disorder like dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
What happens during a CT scan procedure?
During a CT scan, you'll be asked to lie on a special table that slides into a doughnut-shaped scanner.
This machine houses a rotating X-ray device that will move around your head, capturing images from various angles. These are then processed by a computer to produce cross-sectional pictures of your brain.
In some cases, a contrast dye may be used to enhance the image quality. The dye can be given orally or by injection, depending on the area being examined.
How long does a CT scan for dementia or Alzheimer's typically take?
The actual scanning portion of a CT procedure is relatively quick, usually lasting only a few minutes.
However, the overall appointment can take longer (up to an hour in some cases) when you account for preparation time, possible administration of contrast dye, and the wait for the scanning process to complete.
Your imaging center will be able to give you a more precise estimate based on your specific situation.
Will I need to lie still inside the CT scanner?
Yes, you'll need to remain as still as possible during the CT scan. If you move, you could make the CT images blurry and may give your doctor inaccurate results.
The scanning table has straps and pillows to help you stay comfortable and motionless. The technologist will be able to talk with you through an intercom system during the scan, guiding you through the process, and ensuring your comfort.
Will I experience any discomfort or side effects during or after the scan?
A CT scan is generally painless. If contrast dye is used, you might feel a brief warming sensation or have a metallic taste in your mouth.
Some people may experience minor side effects like nausea, itching, or rash due to the contrast material, but these are usually short-lived.
Rarely, some individuals might have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye. If you've had a reaction to contrast material in the past, be sure to inform your doctor prior to the scan.
After the scan, you can typically return to your normal activities right away, unless your doctor gives you other instructions.
Your radiology technologist will encourage you to drink plenty of fluids, which should help flush any contrast material out of your body.
How your doctor understands the results of your CT scan for dementia
Understanding how doctors interpret CT scans for diagnosing dementia can help demystify the process and shed light on what those images can reveal about our brain health.
What is my doctor looking for in my CT scan images?
Your doctor is primarily looking for any abnormalities or changes in your brain that might point towards a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
CT scans can provide detailed images of the brain's structure, enabling physicians to examine its size, shape, and distinct areas within it.
What are the key features or abnormalities they look for?
There are several key features or abnormalities a doctor may look for in a CT scan when diagnosing dementia. These include brain atrophy (shrinking of brain tissue), strokes, tumors, or other diseases that might cause dementia-like symptoms.
Brain atrophy, a common sign of diseases like Alzheimer's, shows up on CT scans as an enlargement of the brain's fluid-filled spaces, known as ventricles, or increased space between the folds of the brain.
Are there any specific signs on a CT scan that indicate dementia?
A CT scan can reveal physical changes in the brain that are associated with different types of dementia. For instance, vascular dementia (caused by reduced blood flow to the brain) may show evidence of stroke or small vessel disease.
However, these signs are not exclusive to dementia and can be present in normal aging or other neurological conditions, so they need to be interpreted in conjunction with other clinical information.
Can a CT scan definitively diagnose dementia, or is further testing necessary?
While CT scans provide valuable information about the brain's structure and any observable abnormalities, they alone cannot definitively diagnose dementia.
Dementia diagnosis is complex and typically involves a comprehensive evaluation that includes medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and often cognitive and neuropsychological assessments.
CT scans contribute to the diagnostic process by ruling out other conditions that could be causing cognitive impairment, such as tumors or strokes, and by confirming the presence of brain changes consistent with different forms of dementia.
How your doctor interprets your CT images to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease
CT scans are valuable tools in the suite of diagnostic techniques for cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Let's take a closer look.
When my doctor looks at my CT scan for Alzheimer’s disease, what are they looking for?
The hippocampus plays a vital role in memory formation, while the cortex is involved in language, judgment, and social behavior.
With Alzheimer's, these areas often show significant shrinkage or atrophy. The enlarged ventricles (fluid-filled spaces in the brain) can also be an indicator of Alzheimer's, as they suggest a reduction in the surrounding brain tissue.
How accurate is a CT scan in diagnosing Alzheimer's?
A CT scan can reveal physical changes in the brain indicative of Alzheimer's, so it is an important part of diagnosing Alzheimer’s, but it is not a definitive diagnostic technique for the disease.
In diagnosing Alzheimer's, a CT scan primarily helps to rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms, like brain tumors, strokes, or certain types of infections.
Can a CT scan differentiate between different stages of Alzheimer's?
Currently, CT scans are not typically used to determine the stage of Alzheimer's disease, so doctors use other studies for that.
While CT scans can highlight the presence and extent of brain atrophy, it's challenging to see the specific stage of Alzheimer's, as the disease progression varies greatly among individuals.
What other diagnostic tests may be recommended alongside a CT scan for Alzheimer's?
Alongside a CT scan, your doctor may recommend neuropsychological testing to assess your cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, language, and problem-solving skills.
They may order laboratory tests to rule out other potential causes of cognitive impairment, such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues, kidney diseases, or liver diseases.
In some cases, more advanced imaging techniques like a PET scan may be used to diagnose dementia. A PET scan can reveal the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
How to Schedule a CT Appointment with Us
We want to help your doctor take good care of you, starting today, and we’ll make it easy for you to get a CT appointment.
Our CT scans cost up to 60% less than what you’ll pay at a hospital, and we have locations across South Jersey, so we’re here to help. All you have to do is reach out to us.
Contact us at any of the following locations to schedule an appointment:
- Route 73 Office – Voorhees Township, NJ
- Greentree Office – Marlton, NJ
- Washington Township Office – Sewell, NJ
- Turnersville Office – Turnersville, NJ
- Voorhees Office – Voorhees Township, NJ
- West Deptford Office – West Deptford, NJ
Learn more about the board-certified, subspecialized radiologists who read and interpret studies at SJRA here.
A CT scan is a medical imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer processing to create detailed cross-sectional images of the body, allowing doctors to examine the brain for any abnormalities.
A CT scan can reveal structural changes in the brain associated with dementia or Alzheimer's, but it cannot definitively diagnose these conditions and is typically used to rule out other causes.
Doctors may recommend a CT scan to assess the structure of the brain and rule out other conditions that may present similar symptoms to dementia or Alzheimer's.
Before the CT scan, follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider, which may include fasting for a specific period or avoiding certain medications.
Your doctor will provide specific instructions, but fasting before the scan may be required, while taking prescribed medications is typically allowed.
You may be asked to remove jewelry or metal objects and wear comfortable clothing without any metal fastenings or buttons.
It is important to inform the radiology technologist about any existing health conditions, allergies, or medications you are currently taking.
During the CT scan, you will lie on a table that slides into a large, doughnut-shaped machine, and the machine will rotate around you to capture images of your brain from various angles.
Your doctor will examine the CT scan images for any signs of brain abnormalities, such as atrophy, tumors, or bleeding, which may be indicative of dementia or Alzheimer's.
A CT scan can provide valuable information, but a definitive diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's typically requires a comprehensive evaluation that may involve additional tests, medical history review, and cognitive assessments.