Published on: February 25, 2017
by Henry Bodkin for The Telegraph:
Rambling and long-winded speech in middle or old age may be an early warning of approaching Alzheimer’s, research has found.
Taking longer to choose the right word, or using ten where five would do, was linked to mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the condition that pre-dates dementia, in a study of 46 adults.
Participants were asked to create a sentence out of three words – “stove”, “water” and “pot” – and while healthy individuals produced a precise sentence, those with MCI struggled.
“One difference is the mean length of utterance how many words MCI subjects used versus healthy older subjects,” said lead researcher Dr Janet Cohen Sherman, from Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It was a very significant difference.”
She said subjects with MCI also tended to lose their train of thought as they spoke, but stressed that many people do this anyway and that it is those who develop the trait suddenly who should give cause for concern.
One of the principal challenges currently facing medics is establishing better methods of detecting dementia early, as people can then be trained to cope better with the disease.
The speech trial could lay the foundation for a new diagnostic tool to help doctors distinguish between normal deterioration that comes with ageing and the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, Dr Sherman said she hoped a new test could be available within five years.
She also cited a previous study comparing the speech of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush who were about the same age when they became US presidents.
“Ronald Reagan started to have a decline in the number of unique words with repetitions of statements over time, whereas George HW Bush didn’t,” she said.
“Ronald Reagan started using more fillers, more empty phrases, like ‘thing’ or ‘something’ or things like ‘basically’ or ‘actually’ or ‘well’.”
Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after leaving office.
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