This memory test could detect Alzheimer’s disease early

In a recent study from the University of Arizona, researchers find that testing how well people remember past events in their lives could help predict who the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is sometimes called a disease with a clinically silent beginning. It is difficult to detect early even though changes in the brain related to the disease may begin to happen years or even decades before a person starts to show memory difficulties.

Late detection raises a huge challenge for developing effective treatments.

To solve the problem, in the study the researchers focused on autobiographical memory, or people’s recollection of past events in their lives.

This is because this type of memory depends on areas of the brain that are vulnerable to early changes from Alzheimer’s disease.

They conducted an “autobiographical memory” test to a group of 35 healthy adults.

Study participants ranged in age from early-50s to 80. About half of the people carry the gene variant APOE e4 — a known genetic risk factor that nearly doubles the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The participants were asked to recall recent memories, memories from their childhood and memories from early adulthood with as much detail as possible.

The interviewers — who did not know which participants had a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s — recorded and scored participants’ responses, evaluating which details added to the richness and vividness of the memories and which did not.

The team found that those with the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, as a group, described memories with much less vivid detail than those without the risk factor.

This is true even all study participants performed normally and comparably on a battery of other, standard neuropsychology tests.

The next step is to study brain activity in the people who struggle to generate vivid autobiographical memories to see if they have observable changes in brain structure or activation of the regions of the brain affected early on by Alzheimer’s.

The researchers hope in the near future with early detection, they will have drugs and other treatments that could potentially slow down, stop and even reverse some of the brain changes that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

UA neuropsychologist Matthew Grilli is the lead author of the new research.

The finding is published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

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Source: Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.