Predicting Alzheimer’s disease risk by testing memory

Predicting Alzheimer’s disease risk by testing memory
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Testing people’s memory over four weeks could help to identify who is at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

New research, led by a team at the University of Bristol, suggests that testing people’s memory over a period of four weeks could help to establish whether or not they are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease before it has developed.

In particular, the team say that testing people’s ability to retain memories for longer periods of time rather than the classic memory test could give a more accurate prediction.

The research has been published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.

Testing for Alzheimer’s

For the study, 46 healthy older people with no cognitive issues performed three memory tests for which delayed recall was tested after 30 minutes and four weeks, as well as the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination III (ACE-III) test and an MRI brain scan. The ACE-III test was repeated after 12 months to assess the change in cognitive ability.

Memory declined over the year for 15 of the 46 participants and the four-week verbal memory tests predicted cognitive decline better than the clinical gold standard memory tests. The prediction was made even more accurate by combining the four-week memory test score with information from the MRI brain scan that shows the size of a part of the brain responsible for memory made the prediction even more accurate.

Dr Alfie Wearn, Research Associate in the Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences (THS) and co-author, said: “Our study shows evidence for a low-cost and quick to administer screening tool that could be used to identify the very earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It could also directly speed up the development of effective Alzheimer’s disease therapies and enable earlier treatment when such therapies are available.”

Testing long-term memory recall could enable earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease is critical, as any future treatment which slows or stops Alzheimer’s disease from getting worse will be most effective if given at the very earliest stages of the disease, which is why testing for long-term memory recall is vital for enabling this early detection.

Dr Liz Coulthard, Associate Professor in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol and neurologist at North Bristol NHS Trust, and co-author, added: “It is important to note the participants were healthy older people who did not develop Alzheimer’s during the trial, but some people did show the type of change over the course of a year in memory and thinking that can precede Alzheimer’s disease. Future work will establish whether this test predicts full-blown Alzheimer’s dementia.”

The next step for the researchers Next, the team will test how specific this test is for detecting Alzheimer’s disease compared to other disorders that cause cognitive decline.

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