Mental tests may lead to early detection of Alzheimer's

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, December 17, 2016
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New research at a Pasadena institute is finding that a series of challenging mental questions can help detect signs of Alzheimer's in its early stages.

PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- How can you tell if forgetfulness is typical brain aging or something more serious, like Alzheimer's?

A Pasadena researcher is looking into how answering a few questions may help pick up early signs of the disease.

Dr. Mike Harrington and his colleagues at the Huntington Medical Research Institutes created a brain challenge to detect signs of Alzheimer's in its early stages.

A helmet tracks brain activity as study participants answer a few questions.

Among them is Anne Snyder, 89, who lost her husband of 61 years, Frank, to Alzheimer's.

"I think it's one little thing I can do that might help," Snyder said. "And it's totally irrational, but I feel like I'm helping him."

Right now, a spinal fluid test can signal Alzheimer's up to 20 years before clinical onset. It tracks levels of beta-amyloid and tau, established markers for the disease.

But Harrington has found that brains of people with these proteins in their spinal fluid work harder to answer questions.

That may someday allow doctors to monitor for early signs of dementia without a spinal tap or expensive imaging.

"That's what we're aiming for because then we can see a decline," Harrington said. "We can objectively measure it."

Harrington plans to add more people to his study, but he needs more funding.

Snyder says her husband would've approved of the research.

"I think it's terribly important because then it might be easier to do something to, if not prevent it, then at least slow it down," she said.