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Cleveland Clinic launches 'wellness checkup” for the brain that could predict Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Visual memory test
Posted at 6:40 AM, Feb 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 18:23:15-05

CLEVELAND — A simple test during your annual physical could cut the number of people who develop Alzheimer’s Disease by half, according to officials from the Cleveland Clinic.

When patients 65 or older come into the Cleveland Clinic’s Twinsburg Family Health Center to get their annual physical, they’re given a 10-minute cognitive test to complete in the waiting room before their exam.

Dr. Stephen Rao, the director of Cleveland Clinic’s Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging, said the goal of the test is to diagnose patients who have early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“There’s a big, huge unmet need in this country. We tend to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease too late,” he said.

The test quizzes patients on visual memory and speed processing. It’s self-administered and officials will give the patient noise cancel ling headphones to complete it on an iPad.

“You’re not going to give a PET scan to everyone over the age of 65,” he said. “It cost $7,000 each time you do the test, sometimes even more. So here we can do a test that is almost no cost, it can widdle the field down to the people who we think might have Alzheimer’s Disease then you could go ahead and do more expensive tests.”

By the time the doctor is ready to see the patient, the results are already in and the doctor can then discuss them with the patient.

Dr. Rao said this makes the test efficient for all parties involved.

“A regular checkup is where a person has a physical exam, blood pressure checked, weight,” he said. “But even though it is recommended that they have a cognitive screening, a thinking screening, it’s rarely ever performed because it’s time consuming,” he said.

Judy Strine of Hudson took the test before her annual physical.

“I was seeing a new doctor and it was the first time I had ever seen her, so I thought it was just a questionnaire for the doctor,” she said.

Strine did well on the test.

“It’s good to know because I have so many friends who have early signs of dementia or something that is causing them to have problems and it’s a good way to key in on that,” she said.

Dr. Rao said, typically, by the time Alzheimer’s Disease is diagnosed in patients, the brain cells are far too damaged for any type of intervention or treatment to be effective, that’s why this test could make such a difference.

“If you were to diagnose the disease much earlier there are many benefits that come from that. Some of that is economic, we could actually plan for people’s medical care in a much more efficient way,” he said. “But we can also intervene and hopefully delay the onset of the disease.”

He said, for example, increasing physical activity can delay the onset of the disease by four to five years.

“That means the number of people who actually have Alzheimer’s disease can be cut in half because people will die from other causes as this is as disease of aging,” he said.

Right now, the test is only available at the Twinsburg Family Health Center, but Dr. Rao said the goal is to get it at all Cleveland Clinic locations.