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Published on: September 11, 2012
by Rick Nauert PhD for Psych Central:
Current medical interventions can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease but is incapable of reversing the damage. New research thus is focused on detection of the disease before substantial and irreversible brain damage.
In a new study, Erin K. Johns, a doctoral student at Concordia University, targeted older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who were displaying slight impairments in memory.
Johns said that problems with “executive functions” like attention, planning, and problem-solving are associated with a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
“We wanted to help provide more reliable tools to identify people who are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s so that they can be targeted for preventive strategies that would stop brain damage from progressing,” Johns said.
Johns and her colleagues found that people with MCI are impaired in several aspects of executive functioning including inhibitory control and the ability to plan and organize.
Overall, Johns and her colleagues found that all the adults with MCI they tested were impaired in at least one executive function and almost half performed poorly in all the executive function tests.
This finding is significantly different than the deficits found by standard screening tests and clinical interviews, which detected impairments in only 15 percent of those with MCI.
“The problem is that patients and their families have difficulty reporting executive functioning problems to their physician, because they may not have a good understanding of what these problems look like in their everyday life.” Johns said. “That’s why neuropsychological testing is important.”
Experts say executive function deficits impede a person’s ability to functional normally. Even something as easy as running errands and figuring out whether to go to the dry cleaners or to the supermarket can be difficult for adults with MCI. Detecting these problems early could improve patient care and treatment planning.
“If we miss the deficits, we miss out on an opportunity to intervene with the patient and the family to help them know what to expect and how to cope,” said Johns.
Johns hopes her continued research will lead to a better understanding of why these deficits start at such an early stage of Alzheimer’s and what other tools could be used for earlier detection of the disease.
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