Photo: Dr. Richard Isaacson, Dr. Oz, and Volunteer Guest Shannon on the Dr. Oz Show. Source: The Dr. Oz Show.
Many think that there is life after Alzheimer's because of the knowledge that with time, their mind will eventually slip away. While there are methods of treatment in place, there is still no formal way to detect the disease early on, making treatment methods difficult to place because diagnosis is in the disease's advanced stages. Not only is this disease terrifying for patients themselves, but it also affects caregivers.
For caregivers, watching the person they love slip away is often as difficult, if not more, than having the disease yourself. This is why many people are attempting to take preventative measures against the onset of the disease, particularly those who have had family members diagnosed.
Recently, an Alzheimer’s disease summit was featured on the Dr. Oz show, and leading researchers of the disease discussed their specific scope of study with Dr. Oz and his guests on, showcasing recent developments and explaining different theories on the origins and treatability of the disease. Richard Isaacson, MD is a neurologist who serves as the director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. He has introduced a simple test that can be taken at home to help identify precursor signs of Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms develop fully.
Recognizing names and faces
To introduce the concept of the test, Dr. Oz asked some members of the audience if they could remember the names and occupations of certain people shown to them on a screen. Some were able to remember the name, but not the occupation, and others were able to remember both. Though the concept behind the test is much more complicated than simply remembering the names and occupations of individuals briefly shown on a screen, the test is exactly that.
A guest from the Dr. Oz show volunteered to come onstage and take the at-home test, which was extended to everyone watching the show as well. The guest, Shannon, first underwent the learning phase of the quiz, in which she was shown three individuals and asked whether or not they seemed like individuals who matched their names. The names of these individuals were shown beneath their faces.
Dr. Isaacson narrated the test and explained that this initial phase gives the test-taker an opportunity to learn. The most prominent symptom of Alzheimer’s in human beings is short-term memory loss, and in order to test for short term memory storage, researchers have individuals learn or take in simple information in the short term. Once the learning phase of the quiz concluded, Shannon was prompted to take a 10 second break while the next phase of the test loaded.
She was then asked to identify the three people that she had just seen, based only on their faces and her response as to whether or not the name seemed to match the face on the screen. She was able to answer all three questions correctly. Dr. Isaacson explained that the inability to remember names of people is one of the more prominent indicators of precursor symptoms to Alzheimer’s, as we learn how to identify faces and names early on in life. As this skill deteriorates, it becomes more and more likely that there is something going on in the brain that is obstructing this critical social function.
Remembering faces and occupations
If remembering the names of individuals is a direct look into the functionality of a person’s short-term memory storage, then occupation is more of a broad look at the mind’s ability to function as a whole. Shannon underwent a second learning phase in which the three individuals shown to her from the first round were now given occupations. She was not asked to remember the names this time, only occupations.
Dr. Isaacson explained that while it may seem that names and occupations are both simple packages of information to memorize, the brain does not process or recognize the two things equally. He explained that some people are able to recognize names better than they are able to recognize occupations, although the reverse might be true in other individuals. Occupation is associated with many other social values, and can call upon different memory centers of the brain that are associated with the occupation. For example, a pilot might be associated with airplanes, flying, and travelling experiences.
Following a second waiting period after the second learning phase, Shannon was prompted to choose the correct occupation from a pool of different occupations for each individual. As with the three names, she was able to answer all three questions correctly. The quiz gives a letter grade to participants, and her perfect score earned her an A plus. Dr. Isaacson specified that he would not feel concerned about anything above a C, as it is normal for people to have momentary lapses in attention or remembrance.
Science behind the test
Prior to distributing the test, Dr. Isaacson informed the audience that the test would not identify or diagnose a person with Alzheimer’s disease nor identify symptoms or markers of the disease in any way. Rather, the quiz can provide insight to scientists as to the overall health of the brain, specifically with any debris or buildup that might be obstructing neural pathways.
Dr. Isaacson educated the audience on a type of protein group called beta-amyloid plaques. These plaques are made up of groups of proteins that buildup and clump together in the brain. In most people, the brain has a process that automatically clears debris and obstructions, but in Alzheimer’s patients, this process is limited or altogether halted. As such, the amyloid plaques grow into tangles or clusters that begin to interfere with ordinary brain functioning.
It is impossible without the aid of brain scans to identify these amyloid plaques or any tangles in the brain, and the at-home test is not an indicator of whether or not the individual has these. Rather, the test indicates pre-symptomatic indicators of the risk that a person might have of one day developing Alzheimer’s disease. It is particularly beneficial for those who have had relatives with the disease, as the origin of the disease is thought to be at least partially genetic.
Armed with the knowledge that your mind might be at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, there are both medicinal and natural therapies that can help strengthen the brain’s core functionality and clear the brain of toxins and debris. This proactive approach towards addressing Alzheimer’s can help slow the progression and onset of the disease, but may not be able to prevent it. That being said, there are many options available in the management of the disease, and keeping a healthy mind early and later on in life can help to provide the best possible outcome to those who may one day have to face the disease.