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Ashland psychologist creates new test for memory loss

If you or a family member seem to be growing more forgetful or confused, but you're not sure, an online test created by an Ashland psychologist — called Quick Screening for Memory Loss — can provide snapshots of the gray matter you can track over time.

The 15-minute QSML test displays geometric figures and asks you to pick them out of a lineup, seeing how many you accurately "retrieve from storage" in your brain, says inventor David Oas, 77, a retired psychology professor from Southern Oregon University.

Mental faculties mature at age 14 and maintain a peak arc until around age 50, when they go into gradual decline, Oas says, and QSML can track that. It can also point out the small percentage of people who have early onset Alzheimer's, along with traumatic brain injuries, alcoholism or other issues that potentially should be taken to a physician. However, it is not a diagnostic test.

"Ultimately, people have to reckon with themselves and recognize that someone in the family is going to need care," he notes.

The test quantifies any increase in error scores and can be helpful in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Oas seeks to cooperate with the Alzheimer's Association TrialMatch program, using the QSML as a predictive and screening tool.

The test can bring up anxiety, as people can miss three or four images and start to feel they are losing their old edge, so Oas suggests taking it again and doing it at regular intervals to get an accurate pattern of performance. Intelligence matters, he notes. Smart people miss fewer.

Oas became fascinated with memory as a child in Minnesota, watching his mother memorize whole books, including the Bible, and recite them without flaw. He learned French, enough to read it, in a weekend and would bring his daughter Rebecca, then 5, to his psychology classes, where she would beat all students in memory card games.

Two of his sons, Derek and Leland, are in advanced studies in psychology at Duke University and Pomona College, respectively, and plan to further the research in their degrees. It will also be refined by SOU psychology teacher John Taylor.

The free test can be found at www.screeningformemoryloss.com. Oas is encouraging people to take it now, then every six months, to help him make a "serial assessment" database of user's memories over time. He suggests taking it in the privacy of your home, where you can relax, concentrate and do your best.

The test asks your gender, education, age and country, but not your name or personal data, so you can take it anonymously.

Since retirement from SOU, Oas has expanded his work to include screenplays, movie production and evaluation of criminal suspects and police officers.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.