Researchers hopeful new discovery will lead to quicker diagnosis and treatment.
A remarkable new study has researchers excited about a possible early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease that could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, according to a release from Washington University in St. Louis.
Experts are hoping the new information will lead to a better treatment regimen that can be applied before the on-set of much deeper memory issues. Amazingly, the discovery revolves around navigational skills.
The study group looked at 16 people that had been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s, and another 13 subjects with preclinical Alzheimer’s, defined as brain changes in their fluid around the brain and spinal cord prior to the development of symptoms of the disease. An additional 42 people were involved as a control group.
The test involved the participants ability to navigate a maze in a computer, made from connected hallways with distinct wallpaper patterns, and 20 different landmarks. The findings showed that those with preclinical Alzheimer’s struggled to memorize the map initially, but eventually were able to navigate as well as the control group. The research team says this indicates a test of navigational skills may be an important step in making an early diagnosis of the disease.
First author on the study, Samantha Allison, of Washington University, where she is a psychology doctoral student, said the team’s “observations suggest a progression such that preclinical Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by hippocampal atrophy and associated cognitive mapping difficulties, particularly during the learning phase. As the disease progresses, cognitive mapping deficits worsen, the caudate becomes involved, and route learning deficits emerge.”
In the statement released, senior author Denise Head, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, offered, “These findings suggest that navigational tasks designed to assess a cognitive mapping strategy could represent a powerful new tool for detecting the very earliest Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in cognition. Professor Head continued by saying, “The spatial navigation task used in this study to assess cognitive map skills was more sensitive at detecting preclinical Alzheimer’s disease than the standard psychometric task of episodic memory.”
Experts say that one of every nine Americans is suffering from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, affecting almost 5.2 million people in the United States.