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Test may catch Alzheimer's in earliest stage

August 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than five million Americans with Alzheimer's disease struggle with simple things like how to find their way to the store or how to recall a friend's name. But catching Alzheimer's disease early can help with caregiving and a treatment plan. Now a simple test can help gauge your memory and possibly catch Alzheimer's in its earliest stage.

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

Her 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 and complain I got memory loss like they might with a sore thumb, or something like that," said Dr. Douglas W. Scharre, a neurologist at the Ohio State University Medical Center. "So they put it off and they think they don't have a problem. So they don't tell the doctor and the doctor has no clue."

Dr. Scharre developed a simple, free test. It asks patients to identify pictures, draw, and test their memory. Problems during the test suggest signs of Alzheimer's. Struggling with the visual and spatial skills on the test could mean dementia, and issues with planning and problem solving point to medication interactions. Doctors can interpret the results in less than a minute.

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

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

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

Dr. Scharre said Marcum has trouble with calculations, word finding, problem solving and memory.

While the free test is easy to use, experts say you should have it administered by a doctor so it can be interpreted correctly.


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