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Detecting Alzheimer's Clues Earlier

March 16, 1998|THOMAS H. MAUGH II

A new 7 1/2-minute screening test that can be administered by a physician, a nurse or a technician can distinguish between normal memory loss caused by aging and that produced by Alzheimer's disease, according to a team led by Dr. Paul R. Solomon of the Southwest Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. They report in the March Archives of Neurology that the simple question-and-answer test is 90% reliable in identifying potential Alzheimer's victims. The diagnosis can then be confirmed by more rigorous examinations.

Through a partnership with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Solomon plans to offer the test free of charge to primary care providers around the country. But the Alzheimer's Assn. said the screening test had not undergone sufficient study and that it "is not an acceptable method for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease."

In another paper in the Archives, Dr. Leonard Berg and his associates at Washington University in St. Louis reported that a conventional mental examination can identify Alzheimer's two years earlier than most researchers had previously believed. Such early identification becomes more important, he noted, as new drugs are found that can delay the course of the disease.

Early diagnosis also assists patients in planning the rest of their lives. Berg noted that too many physicians do not invest the one to two hours necessary to make such a diagnosis.

Marriages May Be Helped by Pets, Study Suggests

Want to save your marriage? Get a dog. Research presented March 12 at a Florida meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society demonstrated that couples who own cats or dogs have closer relationships, are more satisfied in marriage and respond better to stress than do couples who own no pets.

Pet-owning couples also had more frequent contacts with each other and with others, and those most attached to their pets had the most interactions with their spouses, according to psychologist Karen Allen of the University of Buffalo. "We don't know specifically why this is so," she said.

Shoplifting Detectors May Disrupt Pacemakers

People with pacemakers should walk quickly through shoplifting detectors at store entrances to avoid possible interference that could cause dizziness or fainting, says Dr. Michael E. McIvor of the Heart Institute of St. Petersburg, Fla. McIvor told a conference on store security that signals from some detectors caused pacemakers to trigger extra heartbeats or stop stimulating heartbeats entirely, although the risk is small.

"If you walk through the device and you don't stop, you're probably not going to be hurt," he said. "But if you stand in the device, there is a potential for harm."

A study found that the most commonly used detection system affected pacemakers in 96% of cases. Two other systems caused little or no interference, McIvor said.

SIDS Risk Higher if Mother Smokes, Britain Reports

Smoking by the mother is a cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and significantly raises the risk of serious respiratory illnesses among children, according to a British government report issued March 11. The report concluded that 80 of the estimated 400 SIDS deaths in Britain every year are caused by maternal smoking. Such smoking doubles the risk of SIDS.

The study also concluded that the risk of childhood asthma was 28% to 40% higher for offspring of a smoking mother and the risk of middle-ear disease was 20% to 50% higher if either parent smoked.

Reduced Estrogen OKd for Postmenopausal Use

Postmenopausal women can take a pill containing half the usual dose of estrogen to protect against crippling osteoporosis, the Food and Drug Administration decided last week. The FDA approved Estratab's 0.3 milligram of estrogen daily as adequate protection against thinning bones. "This provides a choice for people," said FDA drug evaluation chief Dr. Janet Woodcock.

Osteoporosis afflicts an estimated 10 million Americans, mostly elderly women. Standard treatment is 0.625 milligrams of estrogen daily, which also fights menopausal symptoms and helps keep women's hearts healthy. But only 20% of postmenopausal women considered estrogen candidates actually take it because long-term use may increase breast cancer and has other side effects.

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