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Published on: April 19, 2013
by Geoff Michaels for News FX:
Alzheimer’s disease is most often characterised by memory loss. There is growing interest in looking at changes, including memory problems, that occur in the years before full-blown Alzheimer’s disease sets in. For if people with Alzheimer’s disease can be identified before the condition takes hold, it may be that early intervention could help slow the progress of dementia.
Between 1979 and 2006, researchers at the University of Kansas studied a group of 444 individuals who did not have Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the study. Each had a thorough assessment on enrolment which covered global cognition, verbal memory, visuospatial skill and working memory.
Another assessment was carried out before 2007. Between enrolment and follow up of around six years, 134 individuals developed dementia and 44 of them died and underwent brain autopsies which confirmed a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Then the researchers looked back at the cognitive tests to see which aspects correlated with Alzheimer’s disease.
An intriguing finding emerged – that visuospatial abilities show a sharp decline three years or so before Alzheimer’s disease sets in. But a decline in verbal and working memory was seen only a year before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study shows that there are some very early signs of Alzheimer’s disease to be discovered in the area of visuospatial skills as well as in memory skills. It may be that the tests used to detect those at risk of Alzheimer’s disease ought to be modified and expanded to cover many more aspects of cognitive functioning. Alzheimer’s disease involves more than just memory problems, it covers a wide spectrum of intellectual abilities.
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