Published on: April 21, 2017
by Joana Fernadas, PhD for Alzheimer’s News Today:
People who have trouble detecting details in a test with figures may be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to a new study. This finding suggests that subtle changes in cognition may be identified long before more common symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.
Clinical manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease can take years to become fully visible, noted Emily Mason, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Kentucky’s University of Louisville.
“Right now, by the time we can detect the disease, it would be very difficult to restore function because so much damage has been done to the brain,” Mason, PhD, the study’s first author, said in a news release. “We want to be able to look at really early, really subtle changes that are going on in the brain. One way we can do that is with cognitive testing that is directed at a very specific area of the brain.”
In their study, researchers tested how adults 40 to 60 years old with normal cognition, but at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease due to family history, performed in a cognitive task known to activate a brain area called the perirhinal cortex. Results were compared to those of participants with no family history of Alzheimer’s.
During the test, participants viewed sets of four images of real-world objects, human faces, scenes and Greebles (fine details added to the surface of a larger object that makes it look more complex). Among the four images, one was slightly different from the other, and researchers asked participants to identify which image was the “odd man out.|
Both groups performed similarly for the objects, faces and scenes, but the group of at-risk participants had more difficulty identifying the different image compared to the other group. Indeed, the at-risk group answered correctly 78 percent of the time, whereas the other participants detected the different greeble 87 percent of the time.
“Most people have never seen a Greeble and Greebles are highly similar, so they are by far the toughest objects to differentiate,” Mason said. “Using this task, we were able to find a significant difference between the at-risk group and the control group. Both groups did get better with practice, but the at-risk group lagged behind the control group throughout the process. The best thing we could do is have people take this test in their 40s and 50s, and track them for the next 10 or 20 years to see who eventually develops the disease and who doesn’t.|
Researchers cautioned that this test is not definitive in detecting Alzheimer’s, but may help clinicians identify which at-risk subjects may develop the disease over time.
“We are not proposing that the identification of novel objects such as Greebles is a definitive marker of the disease, but when paired with some of the novel biomarkers and a solid clinical history, it may improve our diagnostic acumen in early high-risk individuals,” said Brandon Ally, PhD, the study’s senior author. “As prevention methods, vaccines or disease modifying drugs become available, markers like novel object detection may help to identify the high priority candidates.”
Image: Greeble images courtesy of Michael J. Tarr, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University.
Thanks to the ongoing support of our partner Brain Canada, and The Citrine Foundation of Canada, Women’s Brain Health Initiative’s newest edition of MIND OVER MATTER has just been published. Loaded with interesting science-based articles, MIND OVER...
On December 2nd, in celebration of Women’s Brain Health Day, join thousands of others and take part in the Stand Ahead® Memory Challenge to stand up against research bias and stand ahead for women’s brain...
YOU’RE INVITED! On December 2nd, the second annual Women’s Brain Health Day, take the memory challenge and help us combat brain-aging diseases that disproportionately affect women. Join CTV’s Pattie Lovett-Reid and Anne-Marie Mediwake, along...
The material presented through the Think Tank feature on this website is in no way intended to replace professional medical care or attention by a qualified practitioner. WBHI strongly advises all questioners and viewers using this feature with health problems to consult a qualified physician, especially before starting any treatment. The materials provided on this website cannot and should not be used as a basis for diagnosis or choice of treatment. The materials are not exhaustive and cannot always respect all the most recent research in all areas of medicine.