Diagnosing Alzheimer's with a Pencil

FRESNO, Calif.

Since a new person is diagnosed every 70 seconds, it's critical to catch it early. There's a new, free way to test your memory and help doctors get you started on the right treatment.

"My mom's the brightest woman I've ever, ever met, bar none," Tracey Manz, told Ivanhoe.

"She's the best thing," Geneva, Tracey's mother, said.

"We're the bestest of friends," Tracey added. "We've always been."

"She's always there for me," Geneva said.

Geneva's going to need her daughter even more, soon. She's suffering from Alzheimer's.

"You start out, you find yourself lost, and you have to ask for help, and that's hard," Geneva said.

Geneva's mother and three brothers have all dealt with Alzheimer's. The family history includes physical exams, cognitive tests, brain scans and blood tests that help determine the cause of memory loss.

"Patients don't come to their doctor to complain, 'I got memory loss,' like they might with a sore thumb," Douglas W. Scharre, M.D., director of the division of cognitive neurology at Ohio State University, told Ivanhoe. "So, they put it off. They think they don't have a problem, so they don't tell the doctor, and the doctor has no clue."

Dr. Scharre has developed a simple, free test. It asks patients to ID pictures, draw, and test their memory.

Problems suggest signs of Alzheimer's. Struggling with the visual and spatial skills on the test could mean dementia.

Issues with planning and problem-solving point to medication interactions. Doctors can interpret the results in less than a minute.

"You can just look at it and clearly see that it's clearly wrong or clearly right, and you'll get a gestalt that they're not really doing well," Dr. Scharre said.

Geneva took the test for us, answering nine out of 22 questions correctly. Missing just six questions is a red flag.

"I could have done a lot better than that," Geneva said. "I know that."

Doctor Scharre says Geneva has trouble with calculations, word-finding, problem-solving and memory.

You can download this test at www.sagetest.osu.edu.

While the test is free, it should be administered by a doctor, so he/she can interpret it correctly. Doctor Scharre says this test cannot only detect memory problems early, but it can also calm the fears of people who think they're losing their memory.

David Crawford
Ohio State University
Medical Center Communications
(O) 614-293-3737
Email: David.Crawford@osumc.edu

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