Mayo Clinic Conducting Memory Loss Study; Jacksonville Clinic Is Leading Unique Alzheimer's Disease Research of African-Americans

Article excerpt

Byline: CHERIE BLACK, The Times-Union

In the early 1990s, Pamela Quarles began noticing changes in her mother's behavior.

She would watch as her mother, Jane Freeman, stood in front of a sliding glass door, not remembering how to get to the other side. As hostile behavior began to surface in her mother's demeanor, Quarles realized the problem was more than just forgetfulness.

After two years of family denial, Quarles finally was able to get her mother to see a physician.

Freeman was diagnosed at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville with probable Alzheimer's disease and was treated with medication until her death in May.

Freeman also may have helped future Alzheimer's patients by participating in a unique study at Mayo focusing on memory and Alzheimer's disease in African-Americans.

A $7.5 million grant from the The National Institute on Aging supports Alzheimer's research in Jacksonville and Rochester, Minn., and renews Mayo Clinic's designation as one of the country's 29 Alzheimer's research centers for an additional five years.

Since 1991, Jacksonville investigators have been at the forefront of Alzheimer's research in African-Americans, recruiting more than 300 cognitively normal volunteers to participate in research at the clinic. Mayo Clinic physicians have also provided free dementia evaluations and follow-up treatment for more than 350 African-Americans.

"There is not a large amount of data on what is normal memory in African-Americans, and if you don't know what's normal, it's hard to see what's abnormal," said Floyd Willis, a researcher and physician in the department of family medicine at Mayo Clinic.

Willis said African-Americans are disproportionately affected by diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which may put them at risk for developing Alzheimer's more than other racial groups. He also said standardized tests could be misdiagnosing numbers of African-Americans. Physicians use these tests to help diagnose Alzheimer's by comparing a person's cognitive abilities to what's considered normal. …