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Brain Imaging in Memory Loss Printer Friendly Version Printer Friendly Version Share

The doctor may recommend that the person with a memory problem have an image made of the brain. Such pictures of the brain have two uses:

1. To see whether one of several rare causes of memory loss is the cause of the problem. These conditions include brain hemorrhage (bleeding), brain tumors, hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), among others.

2. To help determine a likely cause of the memory loss. For example, atrophy (shrinkage of the brain) and vascular damage from strokes can be seen in the images. Two similar technologies are used for getting images of the brain.

Computed tomography

(CT) scanning is an x-ray method that gives the doctors a series of images that show “slices” of the entire brain. CT scans allow the doctors to detect strokes, tumors, and other uncommon causes of memory loss. A CT scan of the brain takes about 10 minutes and costs $250 or more.

Magnetic resonance imaging

(MRI) is another method of getting similar pictures, except that it provides more detailed images and is especially helpful in identifying the amount of vascular (blood vessels) disease in the brain. The disadvantages of an MRI scan are that it takes longer that a CT scan, about 20 minutes, it often requires the patient to pass through a small enclosed space, and it costs $500 or more.

Both types of imaging are effective ways for the doctor to obtain information often needed in evaluating a memory problem. After completing the physical examination and assembling a person's history, the doctor is able to decide how useful brain imaging might be and which procedure will be most useful.

Medicare covers most of the cost of imaging, as it does most x-rays.

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