Some researchers call it the “Name Game.”
The way our brain responds to hearing the names of celebrities such as Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie may end up telling us whether we’re at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, say experts such as Michael Seidenberg.
Seidenberg, a psychology professor at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, has spent several years working on research that one day could serve as an early diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s.
Currently there is none. Nor is there a cure. By the time a patient complains about being confused or forgetting simple details such as knowing what day it is, the disease usually has been present for more than a decade, Seidenberg said .
“If we were able to slow down Alzheimer’s by five years … we would cut in half” the number of people with the disease, he said.
Seidenberg collaborated with three other doctors in the research funded by the National Institutes of Health. They selected about a 100 seniors from Milwaukee ranging in age from 65 to 85 who showed no symptoms of memory loss.
The second round of testing was conducted more than a year ago at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where researchers used a type of magnetic resonance imaging that allows them to see activity in parts of the brain associated with memory.
Volunteers were divided into groups that included those with no memory problems or risk factors for Alzheimer’s and those who either had a family history associated with the disease or had tested positive for the gene that could increase the risk.
While lying inside the scanner, participants watched the names flash in front of them. Using a button, they responded either yes or no to indicate whether they recognized them. The names included Albert Einstein, George Clooney and Marilyn Monroe as well as lesser-known individuals.
For volunteers considered at risk, the results showed a difference in how their brains worked when retrieving the information, Seidenberg said.
“Somehow their brain is working in a different way. It’s showing more activity,” he said. “We’ve come to hypothesize that in order to do the task, the brain is working harder, and other regions of the brain have to come into play to compensate.”
Seidenberg, who will repeat the test next year, hopes that by tracking the participants, researchers eventually can map a relationship that could serve as an early marker to indicate the disease’s presence.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association based in Chicago, as many as 5.3 million people in the U.S. have the disease, the sixth leading cause of death. Health care costs are three times higher for people with Alzheimer’s than for others 65 and older. The number of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to nearly double every 20 years, experts say.
“The combination of tools we would like is an early marker and therapy,” said Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the organization.
“We are short on both sides at the moment.”
Via Study shows ‘Name Game’ hints at Alzheimer’s — chicagotribune.com.