The new study could totally change how scientists think about Alzheimer's.
An amazing new study has found that there may be some telltale early signs of Alzheimer’s — specifically, difficulty in remembering new surroundings.
It’s a big discovery that could lead to earlier Alzheimer’s diagnoses, potentially resulting in more effective treatment before someone has deeply set-in memory problems, according to a statement from Washington University in St. Louis.
The study involved 16 people with early stage Alzheimer’s symptoms and 13 people with preclinical Alzheimer’s — brain changes before symptoms develop — in fluid from around their brain and spinal cord. There was also a control group of 42 healthy people.
These participants were then tested on their ability to navigate a virtual maze on a computer using interconnected hallways with four wallpaper patterns, as well as 20 landmarks.
Those with preclinical Alzheimer’s were able to learn the pre-set route, although they struggled at first with creating a mental map of the maze. But they eventually overcame this hurdle and performed as well as the control group, indicating that testing people on navigational tasks could be a vital first step to an early diagnosis.
“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,” senior author Denise Head, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, said in the statement. “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.”
First author Samantha Allison, a psychology doctoral student at Washington University, explained what it indicates in more detail.
“Our 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,” she said. “As the disease progresses, cognitive mapping deficits worsen, the caudate becomes involved, and route learning deficits emerge.”