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Pioneering dementia scanner set to be rolled out across Wales

20 May 2021

A scanner used to identify some of the earliest and most difficult to diagnose forms of dementia is to be rolled out across Wales.

It comes after a successful pilot between Cardiff University’s Wales Research and Diagnostic PET Imaging Centre at the University Hospital of Wales, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales.

From this week the technology will be available across all health boards – and it is hoped it will help to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and reduce waiting lists built up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans – using a radioactive tracer drug – show how your tissues and organs are functioning. In dementia, the scan can reveal the areas of the brain which have reduced function in people who are presumed to have the condition but have few symptoms.

The technique allows patients and their families to receive an earlier and more definitive diagnosis, as well as the opportunity for earlier treatment and more appropriate psychological and lifestyle interventions.

Professor Christopher Marshall, Director of the University’s imaging centre, said: “The high-quality data acquired by Cardiff University and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board during the pilot project has enabled the Welsh Health Specialised Service Committee to approve the routine use of this test in PET scanners throughout Wales.”

Wales has previously lagged behind the rest of the UK when it came to diagnosing dementia; around 47% of people are thought to be living with the condition but have not had a diagnosis.

Now, access to PET scans for dementia will be available across Wales – helping to clear some of the backlog of patients waiting for a diagnosis due to the pandemic.

News of the roll out comes during Dementia Awareness Week and on the back of the Welsh government’s £10m investment in the Dementia Action Plan in 2018.

Dr Chineze Ivenso, chair of the Old Age Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales, said: “This is a proud moment for everyone involved in this ground-breaking project from the start. It really is fantastic news for my patients as well as their families.

“Living with dementia is not easy but an early diagnosis helps in managing the condition. Getting people, the help they need, quickly. For a long time, Wales was behind the curve when it came to diagnosing dementia. Now we’re leading the way.”

Sue Wigmore and her father Mike Runnalls

Sue Wigmore works at the Alzheimer’s Society. Her father Mike Runnalls, 88, recently had a PET scan and was diagnosed with dementia.

“As a family, it was important to us that dad had that early diagnosis to enable him to access appropriate medication and support so that we could help him manage the condition and plan for the future together,” she said.

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