This Ohio State doctor might hold the key for the fight against Alzheimer's disease.
Photo: Eric Thompson (left) and Dr. Scharre (right)/10TV.
Alzheimer’s gradually takes away a patient's memories, personality, ambition, and their daily routine. It is an insidious disease, and very few are exempt from the signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, over 70 percent of the elderly currently have some form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is the cause of 60-70 percent of dementia. The disease usually begins with difficulty remembering recent events or short-term memory loss. As Alzheimer’s advances, symptoms include disorientation, mood swings, problems with language, motivation, and a lack of self-care.
The disease causes withdrawal from society and family, everyday actions gradually become hard to manage, and death is often the result of Alzheimer’s. The progression of Alzheimer’s varies from patient to patient, but once established, many of those with Alzheimer’s disease live only six to nine years after the initial diagnosis.
Eric Thompson has Alzheimer’s Disease. On a drive to work, he pulled over to the side of the road and couldn’t remember where he was. He had made this drive thousands of times over the years.
"I had seen Alzheimer's disease, because of my family history but I couldn't believe it was happening," Thompson said. "I was diagnosed at age 54 and I'm 59 now."
Thompson has lost his sense of direction because of Alzheimer’s, but he refuses to let the disease keep him down. With the help of his cell phone and his wife, he still maintains a relatively functional lifestyle. His cellphone alerts Thompson to take his meds, brush his teeth, and to do little things around the house. His wife is also there to remind him of what he needs to do.
Thompson is the seventh member of his family to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He is trying everything he can to ensure that he is the last victim. Currently, Thompson is undergoing treatment at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center under Dr. Douglas Scharre.
"Given that I have Alzheimer's I'm willing to take a risk," Thompson went on. "And I don't think my condition has gone down even though it's been years."
The progress with solving Alzheimer’s is slow, and current treatments only temporarily ease symptoms. Efforts to resolve the brain-damaging plaque that causes the disease is measured work. But, Dr. Scharre says that progress to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is still moving forward.
Alzheimer’s research is still carrying on
At the International Alzheimer’s Conference, Dr. Sharre and colleagues heard details about the breakthroughs that might help move treatments of Alzheimer’s forward.
"Researchers are working to find drugs that can potentially get rid of these toxic proteins that build up in the brain or prevent the formation of these toxic proteins," said Scharre.
Dr. Scharre has been working with Deep Brain Stimulation or DBS to find a way to control Alzheimer’s. Deep Brain Stimulation is a neurosurgical technique where electrodes are implanted in specific parts of the brain. These electrodes send impulses to different areas of the brain in order to stimulate brain activity and control your body's chemicals and neurons.
Those patients who underwent this treatment were able to realize daily functioning abilities as well as some cognitive functions. Dr. Sharre’s tests are small but promising, and more research and tests are underway.
To continue with experiments and studies, the federal government, as well as other donors, are providing money to the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and Neurology Institute to continue work and to hire 15 new neurologists and researchers.
The work to slow down Alzheimer’s is continuing, and Dr. Sharre gives these three steps to help you get a more accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's:
- Get a baseline cognitive test.
- Take the SAGE written home test each year and document your findings
- Keep in contact with your doctors. At the first sign of Alzheimer’s, act and get on medication. The earlier the intervention, the better.
He also recommends to ask the following questions to yourself and loved ones:
- Has there been a change in memory?
- Have you been thinking differently?
- Do you have trouble finding your words?
- Do you get lost in familiar areas?
- Have you noticed a change in your judgment or problem-solving skills?
Eric Thompson feels the work within OSU Wexner Medical Center can lead to breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research and give him the help he needs. In the meantime, however, Thompson refuses to give up or slow down anytime soon. He will not let Alzheimer’s disease catch him.
"I play basketball. I destroy the young, high school kids," Thompson stated with a slight smile. "It bothers them, but I can still shoot the 3, even at my age."
If you are concerned that you are having cognitive issues or forgetting things, take the SAGE test. Friends or family members who seem to be in distress can also take this test. The difficulties listed on the test might be early signs of brain dysfunction and cognitive issues or it can be symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Brain dysfunction has a variety of causes
Dr. Seth Gale, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, points out that polypharmacy or taking several medications, depression and poor sleep can lead to memory loss.
If not treated, sleep apnea affects your spatial navigational memory. This type of memory helps you remember directions or where you put things. REM sleep or rapid eye movement is vital in maintaining memory.
Small strokes that damage small blood vessels can cause changes in brain function. These interruptions are silent stokes that range from mild to severe and cause cognitive impairment.
Lack of sufficient B12 can lead to confusion and dementia. Vitamin B12 is one of the essential vitamins that are essential for healthy functioning nerves. Each day get about 2.4 micrograms of B12 in your diet from dairy products, fish, or meat.
Stress and anxiety can lead to problems with attention and memory as well. Stress and anxiety are common among those who are juggling home and work and not sleeping well. Once you ease your stress levels, your memory often improves. Untreated chronic stress leads to depression and also affects your brain function. According to research published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences, mood disorders can be improved with medication and counseling.
Dr. Scharre's SAGE test might be able to predict Alzheimer's disease
Note that most people do not seek help for memory symptoms until it is almost too late. Many people can treat the causes of cognitive and memory loss by using the available medication and therapy.
Consider yourself normal, even if you are experiencing some memory loss or taking longer to recall events as you grow older. However, if the changes you experience are bothering you or causing worry to your family and friends, SAGE can be a great tool to assess if you need further evaluations.
SAGE does not give you a definitive diagnosis of any specific condition. Your test results will not tell you if you have mini-strokes, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The results, however, can give your doctor an idea of what is going on and provide a baseline for future brain issues.
You only need paper and a pen to take the SAGE test. Take any type you feel comfortable with using. The link to the test is https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/brain-spine-neuro/memory-disorders/sage.
After you take the test, keep your answers and bring them to your primary care doctor. Your doctor may prescribe follow up tests or let you know that you are doing great. Be sure not to ask anyone else about the answers on the test and do not worry about the time. There is no time limit, so take it easy.
Once you have completed the test, take it to your primary care physician. Your doctor will categorize your scores and translate the results. If indicated, your doctor will prescribe other evaluations to determine if your symptoms need further evaluation.
If you have no diagnosis, your doctor can keep the SAGE test on file as a baseline for future problems. If you take the SAGE test in the future, any changes can indicate a need for further evaluation and diagnosis.
There are no wrong or right answers, and there are multiple answers to any of the questions on the test. Don’t worry if difficulties are taking the test. You can always go through the SAGE evaluation with your primary care doctor.