Alzheimer's risk assessment

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors will die with it. Yet almost half of the people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers never know they have it. A first-of-its kind risk assessment clinic is now providing detailed information to healthy adults about their Alzheimer's risk.

Jon Kling has made it a habit to play online brain games. This 72-year-old has a strong family history of dementia. He watched his mother struggle in her 80s.

Kling told ABC30, "She knew me, initially. But then after a few years she didn't know who I was."

It's the main reason Kling decided he needed to know his likelihood of developing dementia.

Inside his newly created clinic, David Geldmacher, MD, Professor of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, provides patients with a personalized dementia risk assessment.

Dr. Geldmacher told ABC30, "We focus on those modifiable risk factors and give people a blueprint or a roadmap for improvement, or reducing those risks."

Doctors start by discussing diet, exercise, cholesterol and blood pressure; all considered factors that can slow dementia's progression. Clinicians also test something called psychomotor speed, how quickly a participant can do a puzzle or other task.

An MRI scan can signal atrophy or shrinkage in the memory centers of the brain. It can also pinpoint fluid spaces. People with larger fluid spaces have a higher risk for progression of dementia within a six-year time span.

"We haven't figured out good ways for getting brain cells to grow back once they are dead or damaged. So if we can't prevent those deaths then we're always going to be behind the eight ball," Dr. Geldmacher explained.

Kling said, "This is something that I want to avoid at all costs."

For Kling, the assessment is worthwhile. His six-year risk is low, which for now, gives him peace of mind.

Dr. Geldmacher says patients who show a high risk of developing dementia are also referred for other services that can assist them with things like financial planning and long-term care insurance. The risk assessment is not covered by most health insurance companies, and costs about $1,000 to complete.

For more information, contact:

David Geldmacher, MD
University of Alabama at Birmingham
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