New research studies indications of brain health

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

Suppose you go to your doctor’s office and as part of your medical screening, you get an assessment on the likelihood that you might develop Alzheimer’s or another cognitive disease.

New research looks at early indications and, more importantly, tailoring a plan to keep your brain healthy.

One of the many mysteries of the human brain is why some people develop Alzheimer’s disease and others don’t.

Dr. James Glavin, a University of Miami neurologist and researcher spent 25 years working to crack the code.

“Roughly four out of 10 older adults will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease, but we were interested in the rest, what about the other 6 out of 10 that do not, why don’t they develop the disease,” Glavin said.

This research focuses on unlocking risk factors. It looks at vulnerability, resilience and brain performance as indicators of who might likely get a degenerative brain disease.

The first two factors have established features, things like diet, exercise and education, which can be modified along with factors like race, age and health, which can’t.

What was hard to measure, until now, is brain performance. And that’s where Glavin’s research comes in. He created a non-language survey that tests brain processing.

“We created a test called the numbers symbol coding test, which allows us to look at executive function, your problem-solving, decision-making capacity because this underlies all the brain functioning, not just memory, which only changes late in brain disease, but something that really serves all of the brain functioning,” Glavin said.

One day this survey could be used as an early screener.

“Someone then could, before they even show up at the office, fill out this platform and give an assessment of how strong their brain is, their resilience, how weak their brain is, their vulnerability, and how their brains performing, and the doctor will be able to then place them in a three-dimensional space and say, this is a brain that’s healthy, and is likely to stay healthy. This is a brain that’s currently performing well but is at high risk for changing in the near future,” Glavin said.

It would offer time to take action on things that changed, before symptoms arise.

“We could take a very tactical approach, we could look at risk reduction, we could look at healthful behavioral change, we could look at modification and tight management of comorbid medical conditions,” Glavin said.

It gives home that people can go through life with good brain health.

This research is still collecting data and standardizing the process, which is important in measuring long-term outcomes.

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