15-minute test diagnoses Alzheimer's with a pencil

September 13, 2010

Where are your keys? How do you get to the store? What's your child's name? More than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease struggle with these questions daily. And because a new person is diagnosed every 70 seconds, it's critical to catch it early.

There's a new, free test to test your memory and help doctors get you started on the right treatment.

Like mother, like daughter. Two women share an incredible bond:

"My moms the brightest woman I've ever, ever met, bar none," said Tracey Manz, Geneva Marcum's daughter.

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

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

"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," said Geneva.

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 that they might with a sore thumb. 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," said Douglas W. Scharre, M.D., director, Division of Cognitive Neurology, Ohio State University.

Dr. Scharre of the Ohio State University developed this simple, free test. It asks patients to ID pictures, draw and test their memory. Problems there 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 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," said Scharre.

Geneva took the test, 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," said Geneva.

Dr. Scharre says Geneva has trouble with calculations, word finding, problem solving and memory. While Alzheimer's is frightening, Geneva will always remember who to call on for help.

"I don't ever forget my daughter's name," Geneva said.

You can download this test at www.sagetest.osu.edu. While it's free, it should be administered by a doctor so it can be interpreted correctly. Dr. Scharre says this test can not only detect memory problems early, but it can also calm the fears of people who think they're losing their memory.

Bottom line, it's much cheaper than an MRI or other tests.

For More Information, Contact:

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

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