Is it Dementia or Something Else? SPECT Has Answers

Dementia Diagnosis

Most adults dread the possibility that they or a loved one could succumb to the ravages of dementia. And if you begin experiencing forgetfulness, confusion, or trouble navigating in familiar areas, you (and your doctor) may assume the worst. Fortunately, when memory concerns arise, SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography), a type of functional brain imaging, can provide answers and hope.

SPECT can reveal abnormal blood flow patterns in the brain so that a doctor can determine if a person’s symptoms are from a certain type of dementia or are not related to dementia at all. In fact, the use of SPECT for assessing suspected cases of dementia is fully supported by major oversight institutions around the world, including the American College of Radiology, the European Association of Nuclear Medicine, and the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine.

When memory concerns arise, brain SPECT imaging can reveal abnormal blood flow patterns that help identify if symptoms are from a type of dementia or are not related to dementia at all. Click To Tweet

Without Looking at the Brain, the Correct Diagnosis Can be Missed: Here’s Why

Brain SPECT imaging is so important because not all people who struggle to remember things have a neurodegenerative disease. Sometimes their symptoms are caused by other problems, even though on the outside it might appear to be dementia. This is why actually looking at the brain is so critical for getting an accurate diagnosis.

Here is a look at 9 conditions that get diagnosed as dementia, but 4 of them are not dementia at all—in fact, they are reversible brain problems!

1. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

Alzheimer’s Disease, which accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases, is caused by deterioration in areas of the brain involved with memory, sensory information, and orientation to time and place, as well as mood and thinking processes. With AD, there’s an accumulation of abnormal proteins between cells (beta-amyloid) and within cells (tau) that disrupt brain function.

2. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

This condition is caused by the blockage and buildup of cerebral spinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain which then can lead to symptoms such as forgetfulness, lack of judgment, and other cognitive difficulties. Often—but not always—patients with NPH will have urinary incontinence and difficulty walking. Those who don’t have the latter two problems can be misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. However, when imaging is used and the enlarged ventricles are revealed, a patient would undergo surgery to insert a shunt to drain the excess fluid. This then allows for the dementia-like symptoms to resolve. However, if brain imaging is not done and the NPH remains undiagnosed, the patient will continue to deteriorate unnecessarily. DIAGNOSIS: NOT DEMENTIA.

3. Frontal-Temporal Lobe Dementia

Frontal-Temporal Lobe Dementia causes malfunctioning of the brain’s frontal lobes, which are involved with executive functions, such as impulse control, planning, judgment, and other cognitive processes. The memory centers in the temporal lobes also deteriorate with this illness. In addition, apathy, behavior problems, and/or personality changes are common with this condition.

4. Vascular Dementia

Vascular Dementia is the result of blood vessel problems that disrupt normal blood flow in the brain. This is usually precipitated by a major stroke or several smaller ones and can interfere with different functions in the brain depending on the areas affected by low or absent blood flow. In addition to memory problems, vascular dementia can lead to mental confusion and restlessness.

5. Brain Infections

Brain infections such as Lyme disease can wreak havoc on brain function. As the immune system tries to fight off the invading bacteria or virus, it can lead to significant inflammation and cause cognitive and memory problems, which—particularly in an older person—might be misdiagnosed as dementia. It is very important to look at the brain to identify the underlying cause of symptoms so that the correct treatment plan can be prescribed. Giving a person who has Lyme disease medication for dementia, rather than an antibiotic needed to fight the bacteria, will likely lead to prolonged—and even worsening—of symptoms and suffering. DIAGNOSIS: NOT DEMENTIA.

6. Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia, which is related to Parkinson’s disease, develops from a build-up of abnormal proteins in brain cells. These proteins, called Lewy bodies, cause damage to the occipital lobes which are involved with vision processing. This condition leads to visual hallucinations as well as significant disruptions to sleep, memory, and cognition, as well as abnormal movements such as those seen in Parkinson’s (i.e. rigidity, tremors, or shuffling when walking).

7. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

In head injuries, the two most commonly damaged areas of the brain are the frontal and temporal lobes. These areas are also implicated in certain types of dementia. While having had a TBI—or multiple ones—is a risk factor for dementia later in life, in most cases, it is possible to improve or even heal the brain after head trauma. Nonetheless, the memory problems, confusion, difficulty with concentration, anger outbursts, and other symptoms from a TBI can look a lot like those in dementia. The difference is that with the right strategies and healthy lifestyle changes, the brain of someone with a TBI can get much better, whereas with a dementing illness the brain will continue to deteriorate. DIAGNOSIS: NOT DEMENTIA.

8. Alcoholic Dementia

If you’ve ever wondered whether or not it’s possible for someone to drink themself to the point of dementia—it is absolutely possible. Alcohol is a toxin, and excessive and prolonged use of it damages the blood vessels throughout the body and brain. Over time, this interferes with the ability of brain cells to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive, leading to atrophy of the brain. Getting treatment for alcoholism as soon as possible can help offset the possibility of succumbing to this type of dementia.

9. Pseudodementia

When a senior citizen is very forgetful, gets lost driving, and doesn’t take care of his or her appearance, most doctors would diagnose that person with Alzheimer’s disease, because those symptoms are common in AD. In cases such as this at Amen Clinics, brain SPECT imaging does not show any of the dementia patterns. Instead, they have shown that patients actually had depression, and when given the right treatment to balance their brain, symptoms improved dramatically. DIAGNOSIS: NOT DEMENTIA.

Without an evaluation that actually looks at brain function, memory problems—like so many other brain-based disorders—can be easily misdiagnosed. By using SPECT imaging as part of a patient’s full evaluation, the doctors at Amen Clinics are able to diagnose their patients more accurately and, with or without a dementia diagnosis, get them on the best treatment to optimize their brain health to the greatest extent possible.

Memory problems can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Hi,
    I recently had a PET scan which showed mild abnormalities in the frontal lobe.
    Could a SPECT scan detect things that could not be seen in the PET scan? Is SPECT possibly more accurate than PET?
    Also, I would be interested to know how much treatment costs at Amen Clinics? Do you take foreign patients as well?

    Comment by Fiorino — August 10, 2021 @ 11:46 PM

  2. Does insurance cover a spect scan ?

    Comment by April Grasse — August 11, 2021 @ 4:24 AM

  3. I am curious about alcoholic dementia having been a heavy drinker for 50 years I have also had over three confirmed cases of Lyme disease. And probably between three and 10 concussions over 50 years. Are there any definitive signs of alcoholic dementia ?

    Comment by Pete Brown — August 11, 2021 @ 4:50 AM

  4. I have seen in alcoholic dementia in my career as a nuclear medicine technologist. I is real! It is most undignified and absolutely preventable.! In my observation, younger people seem to be susceptible. Why alcohol consumption is such considered such an important part of our cultures in the US when it is so toxic is beyond me.
    And, recent studies show that the things we can do for preventing cardiovascular diseases (exercise and healthy diet) are preventive for dementia conditions also. Dr. Amen has great angles on preventing chronic disease.

    Comment by Gail M. — August 11, 2021 @ 5:33 AM

  5. I’m former NFL player and I’m suffering daily with dementia. And the NFL is not helping me

    Comment by eason ramson — August 11, 2021 @ 5:46 AM

  6. This article is great! It clarifies the variety of symptoms that can overlap and confuse the patient and family as to what’s truly happening. It also brings clarity of how important it is to keep digging until the correct diagnosis is found.

    Comment by Stacy Ellman — August 11, 2021 @ 6:24 AM

  7. How much does a brain scan cost. Want to save money for one. Don’t need at this time

    Comment by Anna — August 11, 2021 @ 7:54 AM

  8. Would you have any MD recommendation in the southern part of Germany? Heidelberg , Karlsruhe , Stuttgart?
    I appreciate your help.

    Cornelia Steinmetz-Keller

    Comment by Cornelia Steinmetz-Keller — August 11, 2021 @ 7:55 AM

  9. do you have clinic in Canada?

    Comment by Caroline Joan Devine — August 11, 2021 @ 9:54 AM

  10. Is there anythinlg that can be done if you have Lewy body dementia to relieve the symptoms ?

    Comment by Linda — August 11, 2021 @ 10:47 AM

  11. Have you done spectscans on the Vaccines I am wondering about the brain barriers & it’s long term effects. Aldo wondering if they have autopsy to see the effects in the body

    Comment by Kevin Skillen — August 11, 2021 @ 10:57 AM

  12. Thank you for your perspective on the various brain conditions you describe. My take away is that your perspective offers the opportunity to look at these changes taking place in the brain through a different lens and an expanded approach on how to address the changes that are occurring and impacting the person’s ability to function more adequately.
    In my opinion it is a disservice to the recipients of medical care when medical professionals protect their silos of specialty abandoning an open minded curios mind set.
    My personal experience as a consumer has been that when it comes to understanding conditions more directly involving the brain this is a new and exciting frontier in which the greatest amount of curiosity, collaboration and open minded enthusiasm does not exist.
    The urgency of the pandemic resulted in an unprecedented amount of collaboration initially, profits and prominence were set aside and progress was phenomenal. It would be something to behold if that could happen in the area of brain health and what is referred to as mental illness.

    Comment by Elecia Hart — August 11, 2021 @ 2:15 PM

  13. I would like to know the closest location to get a SPECT and of course the cost of the scan…

    Comment by LINDA LAMAGNA — August 11, 2021 @ 2:21 PM

  14. I live in Australia is there anyone here that can do spec scans that can help me thanking you.

    Comment by Sharon — August 11, 2021 @ 3:30 PM

  15. Hello Fiorino, thank you for reaching out. For more information on SPECT imaging, you can check out this link to our website:
    Amen Clinics offers consultations and different types of evaluations based on the needs of the patient. For information regarding pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 11, 2021 @ 3:47 PM

  16. Hello April. Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider and we do not bill insurance. We do provide a superbill containing applicable diagnosis and billing codes, which can be submitted to insurance companies for possible reimbursement. Our doctors and therapists are not affiliated with any insurance plans or networks. Please check with your insurance provider for any mental health benefits. For additional information regarding your pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 11, 2021 @ 3:47 PM

  17. Hello Eason, thank you for reaching out. We would be happy to reach out to you directly with more information regarding getting you help for your dementia and getting you into one of our 9 clinics here in the US. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 11, 2021 @ 3:50 PM

  18. Hello Anna, thank you for reaching out. We would be happy to contact you directly with more information about the costs of our different services that we offer here at Amen Clinics. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 11, 2021 @ 3:52 PM

  19. Hello Linda, thank you for reaching out. We would be happy to contact you directly with more information about the costs of our different services and evaluations. As for locations, Amen Clinics currently has 9 locations (all in the US):

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 11, 2021 @ 3:55 PM

  20. Hello Linda, thank you for reaching out. For more information on our services related to different types of dementia, please review: Our Care Coordinators are available to answer your questions:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 11, 2021 @ 5:42 PM

  21. Can you tell if someone has tinnitus..and is there anything that can be done for it

    Comment by LucilleCarlini — August 11, 2021 @ 8:33 PM

  22. My son is reluctant to go outside our home but has agreed to the Amen clinics. . . He has been diagnosed (in this order from 6 different docs/healthcare providers in 8 years – adult depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective, “nothing wrong with him – he’s lazy”) He’s had the normal bloodwork and behavioral test with the exception of MRI/PET/SPECT scans. He went to college and he said he went to bed one night and woke up and his whole world changed. Is it worth (he doesnt have insurance) getting full work-up or just first have evaluation?

    Comment by Cathy — August 12, 2021 @ 6:55 AM

  23. I am in my mid 50’s and I recently had an MRI because of memory problems. The neurologist said that my brain did not show any dementia or mild cognitive impairment and she was elated. She said that my brain scan was normal. However, when I asked her what could be causing my memory and other cognitive problems, she said that it might be depression.

    Since I have gone through CBT and tried every depression drug know to mankind without getting any help, what is left? What should I do? I really would like to reach certain goals in this life, but my brain honestly doesn’t work well and there is no way that I can reach my goals with such an unhealthy brain.

    I receive SSI and Medicaid.

    Comment by Margaret — August 12, 2021 @ 11:34 AM

  24. Me interesaría recibir información de PET, Spect como herramienta para el diagnóstico, seguimiento y evolución de las demencias y de la demencia tipo Alzheimer en particular en pacientes menores y mayores de 65 años y más en tiempos de vejez sin fronteras. Un saludo saludable para todo los colegas,

    Comment by Carlos Gil Galvez, MD — August 13, 2021 @ 8:42 AM

  25. Hello Cathy, thank you for reaching out and sharing. We’d be happy to reach out to you directly with more information about our SPECT scans and evaluations.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 16, 2021 @ 3:21 PM

  26. Hello Margaret, thank you for reaching out and sharing with us. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information about SPECT scans and our services, but here are some helpful articles in the meantime:

    We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 16, 2021 @ 3:24 PM

  27. Hello Carlos, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics currently has 9 locations: For more information about scheduling, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 18, 2021 @ 10:45 AM

  28. I have had a scan at Amen clinic in Reston Virginia—I have had a mini stroke which affected my speech—they assign me to a doctor—I’m not sure if I’m getting the full effects of my scan—I don’t know what to do?

    Comment by Delores Ann Bohn — November 10, 2021 @ 11:09 AM

  29. I have a spect scan in Amen clinic in Reston Virginia on May 22 2020–I have the paper work in front of me—I had a mini stroke which affected my speech—I was assigned to Dr Somner—I made a couple appointments with her—it was determined that I had heart disease—I took speech therapy & it didn’t help—but I think I have Vascular Demential —maybe it was misdiagnosed—am waiting to hear from you!

    Comment by Delores Ann Bohn — November 10, 2021 @ 12:13 PM

  30. We are sorry to hear of your struggles and would love to connect with you. Please share your contact information via email to or please call 703-880-4000 and ask to speak with our Clinic Director, Isma, who is looking forward to hearing from you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — November 10, 2021 @ 12:26 PM

  31. We are sorry to hear of your struggles and would love to connect with you. Please share your contact information via email to or please call 703-880-4000 and ask to speak with our Clinic Director, Isma, who is looking forward to hearing from you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — November 10, 2021 @ 12:27 PM

  32. My husband has had memory problems all his life.Struggled doing memory work as a child. I can tell him something now and later he will come and ask what do you think about. Reaction from me did you not hear a word I said. Caused problems learning and with work and relationships.

    Comment by Linda — December 13, 2022 @ 9:54 AM

  33. How often does knowing a diagnosis make the condition worse, if it is not treatable (like a learned helplessness).

    Comment by curious — February 23, 2023 @ 1:06 PM

  34. I should clarify… I meant if the condition is something like AD which is not reversible, does knowing the condition make it worse -if the person feels helpless.

    Comment by curious — February 23, 2023 @ 1:08 PM

  35. I had a minor stroke and it affected my memory. Pretty badly… Nobody can tell because I function fine. It’s just my memory. Have you been able to help anyone with minor stroke symptoms and memory problems?

    Comment by Steve B — November 16, 2023 @ 5:41 AM

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