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Healthy State tells the stories you need to know to stay well, with a special focus on Florida.We'll bring you the latest fitness trends, new research on preventing and treating disease, and information about how health policy impacts your pocketbook.We report on health using all the tools at our disposal -- video, audio, photos and text -- to bring these stories to life.Healthy State is a project of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and is heard on public radio stations throughout Florida. It also is available online at wusfnews.org.

Technology Allows Study Participants to See Whether They're at Risk for Alzheimer's

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Melane Byrd says it was 8-years ago that her mother Doris Sherer started showing the signs of Alzheimer's Disease.

"It sneaks up on you. Yes it sneaks up on you. I didn't realize what was happening," Sherer says.

Because of her impeccable dress and her gift for gab, the former university pageant queen fooled most people.

Byrd explains, "Of course Miss Auburn here has such great social skills, it's not apparent to everybody."

However, the 87- year old's illness was apparent to Byrd.

"She would forget things like, the most frightening thing was that mother was taking her medicine several times a day."


When the family heard about the national study being conducted on Alzheimer's patients and those at risk for the disease, they wanted to know how they could get involved.  Sherer signed up at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute in Tampa.

"Why not help somebody?" Melane Byrd says. 

Those taking part in the study will be tracked for four years and undergo many tests, including PET scans. The equipment is new to the center. A patient is secured to a bed and goes through a scanner which take pictures of the brain.

Being able to "see" brain activity was impossible before the institute got the scanning equipment. Previously, a patient would have to be dead and their brain would have to be cut open to get the same results.

That is something Sherer says she's not quite ready for, at least, not for awhile.

Byrd laughs, "And they even asked her at the end of the study, when you die, can we have your brain?."

"That nearly got me out of here!" Sherer laughs. 

Jill Ardila helps direct clinical research at the institute. She says the process takes about 30 minutes,

"We're able to scan the individual to see what areas of the brain are active verses not being as active," she said. "That's really valuable information."

That's because just by looking at pictures of the brain, technicians can tell the difference between someone with no memory loss, dementias and Alzheimer's disease.

"It's following individuals who come in at different levels of memory impairment. Some of them have normal memory, no cognitive disability, some people have mild memory problems," explains Jill Ardila. "We're also including people who have early Alzheimer's disease."

Sherer admits it was a little scary.

"You just have to think of good things. Like, what am I going to eat later?" she said.

The USF Byrd Alzheimer's Institute is looking for about fifteen more participants with mild or moderate cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer's Disease. Potential participants can not have a history of stroke.

The institute has already filled the portion of the study involving participants with no memory loss. For more information call Jill Ardila at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute.  (813)974-1294

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