New test for Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Early
Alzheimer’s diagnosis is important, like the famous slogan “with a stroke, time lost is brain lost,” detecting alzheimer’s is important in order to stave off cognitive decline. A just like a stroke time lost is brain lost. Unfortunately early diagnosis has been hard to come by, but now researchers say a simple test that combines thinking and movement can help to detect heightened risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in a person. The best part, they say this will work even before there are any telltale behavioural signs of dementia.
The team of researchers asked the participants to complete four increasingly demanding visual-spatial and cognitive-motor tasks, on dual screen laptop computers. The test aimed at detecting the tendency for Alzheimer’s in those who were having cognitive difficulty even though they were not showing outward signs of the disease.
“We included a task which involved moving a computer mouse in the opposite direction of a visual target on the screen, requiring the person’s brain to think before and during their hand movements,” says Lauren Sergio, Faculty of Health Professor. “This is where we found the most pronounced difference between those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and family history group and the two control groups.”
Kara Hawkins, PhD candidate added, “We know that really well-learned, stereotyped motor behaviours are preserved until very late in Alzheimer’s disease.” These include routine movements, such as walking. The disruption in communication will be evident when movements require the person to think about what it is they are trying to do.
For the test, the participants were divided into three groups – those diagnosed with MCI or had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, and two control groups, young adults and older adults, without a family history of the disease.
The study found that 81.8 per cent of the participants that had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease and those with MCI displayed difficulties on the most cognitively demanding visual motor task.
“The brain’s ability to take in visual and sensory information and transform that into physical movements requires communication between the parietal area at the back of the brain and the frontal regions,” explains Sergio. “The impairments observed in the participants at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease may reflect inherent brain alteration or early neuropathology, which is disrupting reciprocal brain communication between hippocampal, parietal and frontal brain regions.”
“In terms of being able to categorize the low Alzheimer’s disease risk and the high Alzheimer’s disease risk, we were able to do that quite well using these kinematic measures,” says Hawkins. “This group had slower reaction time and movement time, as well as less accuracy and precision in their movements.”
Researchers were careful to note that the findings don’t predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease, but they do show there is something different in the brains of most of the participants diagnosed with MCI or who had a family history of the disease. So until we can find a way to cure or prevent alzheimer’s this is the next best thing, after all the sooner you catch the problem, the quicker you can treat.
Hawkins KM, & Sergio LE (2014). Visuomotor Impairments in Older Adults at Increased Alzheimer’s Disease Risk. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease PMID: 24919768