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Task force urges brain plaque scans

MINNEAPOLIS — Advanced imaging that detects plaque in the brain should be covered by Medicare and private insurers for select people with dementia to help diagnose or rule out Alzheimer’s disease, according to guidelines released Monday.

The recommendations are the first to help govern the burgeoning field of brain imaging and may increase the use of the practice to improve care for the 5 million Americans affected with Alzheimer’s disease.

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The Alzheimer’s Association and the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging crafted the proposal to address which patients might benefit from the PET scan technology that detects plaque.

The groups formed a task force of dementia researchers and medical imaging specialists to evaluate the technology. Its results were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

While amyloid plaque is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, not everyone with it has the mind-robbing condition. PET scans require a drug injected into patients to highlight the plaque for doctors. Eli Lilly & Co.’s Amyvid is the only compound currently approved for use with PET scans for this purpose.

‘‘This is going to become much more ubiquitous and available over the next few years,’’ said Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. ‘‘It’s something physicians can refer their patients for if they need additional information.’’

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