Campus: CSU Northridge -- April 10, 2002

CSUN Research Could Lead to Early Detection of Alzheimer's

In a quiet laboratory in a corner of the Cal State Northridge campus, three graduate students are helping CSUN psychology professor Maura Mitrushina and UCLA psychologist Steve Berman search for early markers of Alzheimer's disease.

They are comparing the brain waves of normal healthy elderly people to those of older people suffering from Alzheimer's disease in hopes of finding physiological markers that can eventually help doctors and clinicians differentiate between people who are experiencing symptoms of the normal cognitive decline associated with aging and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

"Alzheimer's is very difficult to diagnose, particularly in the early stages," Mitrushina said, adding that it is often hard to differentiate between reversible dementias and Alzheimer's.

"If we can come up with a way to identify Alzheimer's disease with better precision, then we can start treating those with reversible dementias and find the optimal treatment much earlier to ensure the highest comfort and quality of life for Alzheimer's patients," she said. "They would know what is coming and could plan for the future better."

So far, their work seems promising. At a recent conference in Toronto, Canada, Mitrushina, Berman and Northridge graduate students Tim Antolin, Johnny Wen and Brian Choi, presented a paper reporting a significant difference between the brain waves of normal aging adults and those with Alzheimer's.

"I know that other scientific groups are certainly interested in Alzheimer's," Berman said. "But I don't know of any looking at electrophysiological responses during a visual memory task. We have found a few studies of EEGs (electroencephalograms), but there has not been a lot reported."

What Berman and Mitrushina are doing is monitoring the brain waves of normal elderly people and comparing them with those of people suffering from Alzheimer's while subjects perform some simple memory tests.

"[Alzheimer's] is a progressive disease. Among patients who initially function at the same level, some are going to be dead in a year - after experiencing a steep decline in the course of their illness - while others are going to look about the same cognitively. We would like to be able to give the victims and their families better prognostic information," Berman said. "The idea is that the electroencephalographic responses we can get in the early stages may be predictive, before people have serious problems."

Berman and Mitrushina said their research is still in the early stages.

"We still have a lot of work to do, and it's difficult to get participants to study because we are working with Alzheimer's patients, but it does look promising," Mitrushina said.

Graduate student Tim Antolin, who is finishing up his work towards a master's degree in clinical psychology, has worked on the project for more than two years.

"It's been a long process. We had to get the lab in working order, and then find subjects with Alzheimer's we could work with, but so far the results have been positive," he said. "It is really nice knowing that what we're doing could make a difference in someone else's life."

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