Screening for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias

By Samuel D. Brinkman, Ph.D., creator of the GrayMatters® Assessment System

It is now nearly 100 years since the German physician Alois Alzheimer described the microscopic brain changes in persons afflicted with the degenerative disease that would eventually bear his name.  Much has happened in Alzheimer’s disease research since that time.  We have come to understand that Alzheimer’s disease is amazingly common throughout the world.  In the United States alone, it is estimated there are about 4.5 million cases, and it is expected that there will be more than 13 million cases by the year 2050.  It is so common that nearly everyone in this country knows someone who is touched by the disease. 

Research has led us to an understanding of certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that act as messengers between individual brain cells or groups of brain cells) and how they are selectively involved in the disease process.   Through this understanding, medications have been developed which can slow the rate of progression (how rapidly the symptoms become worse). These medications are now routinely available.  Research on medications to prevent the disease has been promising.  Advances in our understanding of the mechanism of the disease (those things that happen to brain cells to make them degenerate and die) has led to a number of medications in various stages of development, with the hope and promise that there will soon be a medication to actually stop the disease process and possibly even to restore some of the lost functions (memory, language, etc.). 

Yet there remains a frustrating circumstance.  The majority of individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease are never really given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.  Those persons who are evaluated and found to have Alzheimer’s disease are not identified until they have progressed into moderate stages of impairment (or greater).  As a result, we are too often losing months and years of valuable treatment time and allowing the quality of life to deteriorate more than it has to. 

The reasons for this situation are clear.  First, the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (primarily problems with memory and other complex skills in most cases) are difficult to measure objectively.  Second, the accurate measurement of these early symptoms is expensive, because someone trained at the Master’s Degree level or higher is usually required to administer and score the tests.  Third, health care providers (especially gatekeeper physicians) have precious little time available to screen for a disease for which there is no definitive treatment.  Fourth, there continues to be great misunderstanding about when memory problems are just a part of normal aging and when they are a signal that something is truly going wrong in the brain.

Why is early screening and detection important? If screening for the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease could be accomplished accurately and economically, as with the GrayMatters Assessment System®, several wonderful things could be achieved:

  • Persons who have symptoms suggestive of Alzheimer’s disease, but who actually have a treatable disorder causing these symptoms, would be identified, treated, and returned to fully functioning lives with less damage to their lives and lifestyles. 

  • Second, persons who have Alzheimer’s disease could begin medications when the symptoms are mild enough that they can continue to work, drive, manage their affairs, and remain socially engaged for a longer period of time.  If we currently had available the perfect medication to absolutely stop the progression of deficits, we would not have the ability to start most people on this medication because of the lack of screening capabilities.

  • Third, early recognition of Alzheimer’s disease would allow the afflicted individuals time to discuss with family and friends their desires, preferences, and concerns (on issues such as guardianship, transportation, advanced directives, and living arrangements) so that these concerns can be sorted out before they are too confused to participate in these decisions. 

Our research over the past four to five years has suggested that there is a way to screen accurately and economically for the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.  To avoid the high cost of screening, computer technology is utilized.  Procedures have been developed which enable people who have never seen a computer to perform computerized tasks correctly.  Using voice instructions (the computer “talks to” the person who is screened) and touch-screen technology (the person being screened only has to touch parts of the computer screen with the finger in order to complete memory tasks), we have demonstrated that elderly individuals with no computer experience can be screened accurately without having to have highly trained staff assistants to take them through the screening process.  We call this system GrayMatters®, a term which reflects our commitment to making the process of aging as wonderful an experience as possible.

This system is now available to the healthcare community and can be obtained by contacting us at or calling us at 1-866-GrayMatters (1-866-472-9628) or 325-677-3172.  We are most grateful for the help and guidance of many wonderful professionals who are involved in research and/or care of persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. 



  Screening For Alzheimer's Disease
An introduction, by Samuel D. Brinkman, Ph.D.
  The GrayMatters® Assessment System
A closer look.
  Alzheimer's News
  Support Information
  Frequently Asked Questions
For Health care providers
  Find a GrayMatters® Testing location
  About Us
  Media Resources
  Research Summary