Simple Test Can Help Detect Alzheimer’s Before Dementia Signs Show

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor with Alzheimer's disease. Notable is the "shrink" that has occurred in Alzheimer's disease; the brain was decreased in size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor with Alzheimer’s disease. Notable is the “shrink” that has occurred in Alzheimer’s disease; the brain was decreased in size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

York University researchers say a simple test that combines thinking and movement can help to detect heightened risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in a person, even before there are any telltale behavioural signs of dementia.

Faculty of Health Professor Lauren Sergio and PhD candidate Kara Hawkins who led the study 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 Sergio in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science. “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.”

Hawkins adds, “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.

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