Alzheimer’s Memory Test


TUCSON, Ariz. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Alzheimer’s disease is hard to detect early. Changes in the brain may start long before symptoms become apparent. Now results of a new study show that a memory test may tell doctors who is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s years in advance.

Jean and Kathy Norris-Wilhelm have been together 22 years.   Jean started forgetting things, but it took two years of neurological testing to get an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. When asked if she misses the math classroom where she taught for 18 years …

“I did, but now a lot of it has gone away from me,” said Jean.

A recently-completed study at the University of Arizona showed that what’s called an autobiographical memory test may show who’s at risk. Neuropsychologist Matt Grilli, PhD, Dir, Human Memory Lab at the University of Arizona and his team tested how vividly participants could describe past events.

(Read Full Interview)

Grilli explained, “It relies on a number of regions to be coordinated and to sort of work together.”

Grilli tested two groups of cognitively normal people. Those in one group have a gene that increases risk for Alzheimer’s and they had a harder time remembering detail.

“It does tell us that his story of, type of memory testing has promise as a new way of trying to pick up on early signs of Alzheimer’s disease,” Grilli stated.

Kathy is excited that this inexpensive non-invasive screening could get more people an early diagnosis.

“I think having something like this is critical because the sooner you can get a diagnosis, you can prepare for it.” Kathy said.

Not all of the study participants with the genetic risk factor tested poorly, and not everyone with the gene will develop Alzheimer’s. Professor Grilli plans to follow participants in this study and has begun another study that includes measuring participants’ brain activity and structure.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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 ALZHEIMER’S: Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia which causes problems with thinking, memory, and behavior. Symptoms will usually develop slowly and gradually get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with a patients day to day life. It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases, and it is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, as a majority of people with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65. It is not only a disease of old age; approximately 200,000 American’s under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s, or what is also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s. There is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, but treatment is available and research is ongoing. Early signs and symptoms include things such as memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in problem solving, difficulties with familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding, misplacing things and decreased or poor judgement.


TREATMENT: There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or any way to slow its progression, but there are both drug and non-drug options that may help treat symptoms. The FDA has approved two types of medication to treat cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s: cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine. As the disease progresses, brain cells die and the connections amongst cells are lost. These medications may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals in the brain’s nerve cells. Behavior treatment may also be recommended, this will be on a patient-to-patient basis and involve things like avoiding certain behavior triggers and properly addressing emotional symptoms. Treatments may also be given for things like sleep patterns and behavior.


NEW STUDY: Researchers at the University of Arizona are working on a cognitive test that could help medical professionals make earlier predictions about who is at a high risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Using an autobiographical memory test, researchers collected data on a participant by asking them to construct and relive an important memory from their own life experience. All subjects were deemed cognitively normal, but half carried a gene that put them at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that those who carried this gene overall shared fewer particular details and had a harder time providing vivid description of their memory imagery than those who did not carry the gene. With this information and further studies, researchers hope to be able to use this autobiographical test to predict if someone may need to pursue further Alzheimer’s testing.

(Source: and Dr. Matthew Grilli)


Jean Spinelli


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Matt Grilli, PhD, Director of the Human Memory Lab

Read the entire Q&A