Alzheimer's disease is approaching epidemic proportions and it's likely to get worse as our population continues to grow older.
One major area of research is whether the memory robbing disease can be detected up early. Now something as simple as a brain map may do the trick. The device looks a bit uncomfortable but it's not, it's just a cap that holds electrodes against a patient's head. It's a kind of electroencephalogram or EEG that measures and computes specific types of brain waves.
Allen Gonzalez is having a brain map done because a few years ago he noticed that he was having trouble at the women's shoe store he runs. He says his business involves memorizing a lot of shoes that come in, paperwork, and Allen found that it was more difficult for him to remember such details then when he first started out. Allen feared what many people fear when they start forgetting things, that it's early Alzheimer's disease. The brain mapping, called BEAM, may be a way to tell whether that forgetfullness is an early warning sign.
Dr. Eric Baverman says with age the brain slows down. Memory loss occurs gradually, over 20 years or more, and doctors can pick this loss up just like an EKG of the head. And that's where brain mapping comes in. Dr. Braverman's recent study in the Journal of Clinical Encephalography showed that BEAM was more accurate than other commonly used tests at predicting memory impairment. BEAM measures a certain brain wave called p300 that responds to a stimulus such as light or sound. A delay in the speed at which p300 shows up means the brain is processing information more slowly.
Dr Braverman says they've found that aging is occurring about 7 to 10 milliseconds slowing down every decade, but individuals that are getting Alzheimer's are slowing down at a much faster rate. People with Alzheimer's might be 30 milliseconds slower, so they're actually 20 or 30 years older than they should be. Premature brain slowing may predict who's going to develop Alzheimer's. That information could be vital to doctors because there is no one definitive test to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, only a process of eliminating other illnesses to come to a likely diagnosis of Alzheimer's.