Detecting declining minds

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
July 25, 2008 3:15:14 PM PDT
By the year 2040, it's estimated 81 million people around the world will have Alzheimer's disease. There's no cure, but researchers say a new device could make it easier to catch and treat the difficult disease.It's a check-up that gives your brain a workout. Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Tech developed a tool called DETECT. Using a helmet equipped with a computer and eye-level screen, the patient is put through a fast-paced test to measure brain power.

The test uses shapes, pictures and words to gauge reaction time and memory -- functions that when impaired can signal early Alzheimer's.

"All of this is testing their ability to remember, their ability to reason very quickly, and essentially, the function of the brain," said Dr. David Wright, co-director of research for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

The goal is earlier detection and treatment.

"If we can detect them earlier, we can potentially get them on medication earlier, stabilize their condition for a longer period of time," Dr. Wright said.

Findings from a pilot study of almost 400 people found the 10 minute test was just as accurate as other more complicated procedures that take an hour or more.

"I think we all need some sort of marker to help us find the problem early," 70-year-old Jennifer Su said.

Su knows her mind doesn't work as well as it used to. And if she's at risk for Alzheimer's, she wants to know as soon as possible.

"It's sad to lose memory," she said. "When you don't even know you're losing your memory, that's the saddest part."

With a little help, she hopes to enjoy her golden years and keep her memories alive.

Dr. Wright says because the tests currently available are lengthy and complicated, elderly patients often aren't tested until there are obvious signs of cognitive problems. Researchers say the new detect system could be available as early as this fall.


To learn more about the DETECT device or find out how you can participate in the study, call (800)-75-EMORY.