Medical Minutes by John Schieszer
A small study is showing that it may be possible to help a person maintain memory in a whole new way. Using a Google calendar application, researchers were able to maintain prospective memory (the ability to remember to do things in the future) in a patient with mild Alzheimer’s disease. The patient is a retired teacher who had reported memory difficulties 12 months prior to the study. These difficulties referred to trouble remembering names and groceries she wanted to purchase, as well as frequently losing her papers and keys. According to the patient and her husband, the main difficulties that she encountered were related to prospective memory, such as forgetting medical appointments or taking her medication. To help her with her symptoms, Mohamad El Haj, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Lille, proposed using Google Calendar, a time-management and scheduling calendar. The patient accepted, as she was already comfortable using her smartphone. She also declared that she preferred the application as it offers more discrete assistance than a paper-based calendar.
With the patient and her husband, the researchers defined several prospective omissions in the patient, such as forgetting her weekly medical appointment, forgetting her weekly bridge game in the community club and forgetting to go to weekly mass at the church. These omissions were targeted by sending automatic alerts, prompted by Google Calendar, at different times before each event.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, is the first to suggest positive effects of smartphone applications on everyday life prospective memory in Alzheimer’s disease. By demonstrating the positive effect of Google Calendar on prospective memory in this patient, it is hoped this study will pave the way for exploring the potential of smartphone-integrated memory aids in Alzheimer’s disease.
SIMPLE BLOOD TESTS FOR DEPRESSION TREATMENTS
It now may be possible to determine which medication is more likely to help a person overcome depression, according to American researchers. “Currently, our selection of depression medications is not any more superior than flipping a coin, and yet that is what we do. Now, we have a biological explanation to guide treatment of depression,” said study investigator Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, who is with the Southwestern Medical Center’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care in Dallas (Texas). Dr. Trivedi and his colleagues conducted a study in which they demonstrated that measuring a patient’s C-reactive protein (CRP) levels through a simple fingerprick blood test could help doctors prescribe a medication that is more likely to work. Utilising this test in clinical visits could lead to a significant boost in the success rate of depressed patients who commonly struggle to find effective treatments, according to the researchers. Up to a third of depressed patients don’t improve during their first medication, and about 40 per cent of people who start taking anti-depressants stop taking them within three months. “Giving up hope is really a central symptom of the disease. However, if treatment selection is tied to a blood test and improves outcomes, patients are more likely to continue the treatment and achieve the benefit,”
said Dr. Trivedi.
The new research measured remission rates of more than 100 depressed patients prescribed either escitalopram alone or escitalopram plus bupropion. Researchers found a strong correlation between CRP levels and which drug regimen improved their symptoms. Dr. Trivedi identified CRP as a potential marker for depression treatments because it has been an effective measure of inflammation for other disorders such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.