A simple test could help diagnose Alzheimer's disease

By Kelly McCarthy

October 9, 2013 Updated Oct 9, 2013 at 6:23 PM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Imagine a speech test that anyone could take and it would determine if they had Alzheimer's disease. It sounds simple, and something Binghamton University and UHS are teaming up to create.

Dr. J. David Schaffer is dedicating his research at Binghamton University to finding clues in a person's speech that could lead to an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

A journey that first started years ago when he was at home.

"My wife was stricken with early onset Alzheimer's," Dr. Schaffer said, "And she was a very bright woman, and I could see the processes of degradation happening in her brain and they did affect her speech."

The test asks volunteers to describe a black and white picture of two children fishing. What seems like a simple task could show troubles associated with the disease.

"I would also hear her repeat the same story several times," Dr. Schaffer said, "If she would be on the phone with her sisters or the kids."

A very memorable feature that is common in patient's with Alzheimer's disease.

"Someone with Alzheimer's might have a lot of repetition about the same idea," said Shawn Berkowitz, MD, director of geriatrics as UHS, "Because they might have forgotten they already mentioned it. They will be maybe more pauses or pauses more often in their speech."

A disease that doctors currently has no single diagnostic test for, could soon have this study in every office.

"We can get that out to physicians," Dr. Berkowitz said, "And someone does a five minute test in their office and says you know, you have a 70 percent chance that this could be Alzheimer's, that's our dream really."

What's keeping them from making a dream come true, at this point in time, is volunteers in the community.

"At the moment we're having a lot of difficulty recruiting people in the early stages of Alzheimer's," Dr. Schaffer said.

They still need nearly 50 patients to make history.

"We can come up with the best research design possible but if we don't have the volunteers to come up with the research to show the difference none of our work is helpful," Dr. Berkowitz said, "The real angels of the study are the people with Alzheimer's who are willing to volunteer and help the next generation of people with this disease."

Researchers are looking for volunteers with a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease who are in the early stages of the disease.

To participate or for more information contact Kim Evanski in the Social Work Department at Binghamton University at (607) 280 - 1433 or evanoski@binghamton.edu.