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Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;136:971-84. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53486-6.00050-8.

Imaging of neurodegenerative cognitive and behavioral disorders: practical considerations for dementia clinical practice.

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Ray Dolby Brain Health Center, California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, Sutter Health, San Francisco, CA, USA. Electronic address:


This chapter reviews clinical applications and imaging findings useful in medical practice relating to neurodegenerative cognitive/dementing disorders. The preponderance of evidence and consensus guidelines support an essential role of multitiered neuroimaging in the evaluation and management of neurodegenerative cognitive/dementia syndrome that range in severity from mild impairments to frank dementia. Additionally, imaging features are incorporated in updated clinical and research diagnostic criteria for most dementias, including Alzheimer's disease (AD), Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), Frontotemporal Lobar Degenerations/Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), and Vascular Cognitive Impairment (VCI). Best clinical practices dictate that structural imaging, preferably with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) when possible and computed tomography when not, be obtained as a first-tier approach during the course of a thorough clinical evaluation to improve diagnostic confidence and assess for nonneurodegenerative treatable conditions that may cause or substantially contribute to cognitive/behavioral symptoms or which may dictate a substantial change in management. These conditions include less common structural (e.g., mass lesions such as tumors and hematomas; normal-pressure hydrocephalus), inflammatory, autoimmune and infectious conditions, and more common comorbid contributing conditions (e.g., vascular cerebral injury causing leukoaraiosis, infarcts, or microhemorrhages) that can produce a mixed dementia syndrome. When, after appropriate clinical, cognitive/neuropsychologic, and structural neuroimaging assessment, a dementia specialist remains in doubt regarding etiology and appropriate management, second-tier imaging with molecular methods, preferably with fluorodexoyglucose positron emission tomography (PET) (or single-photon emission computed tomography if PET is unavailable) can provide more diagnostic specificity (e.g., help differentiate between atypical AD and FTD as the etiology for a frontal/dysexecutive syndrome). The potential clinical utility of other promising methods, whether already approved for use (e.g., amyloid PET) or as yet only used in research (e.g., tau PET, functional MRI, diffusor tensor imaging), remains to be proven for widespread use in community practice. However, these constitute unreimbursed third-tier options that merit further study for clinical and cost-effective utility. In the future, combination use of imaging methods will likely improve diagnostic accuracy.


Alzheimer's disease; CT; Dementia with Lewy Bodies; Frontotemporal Dementia; MRI; PET; SPECT; cognitive impairment; neuroimaging; vascular cognitive impairment

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