Cognitive test in dogs could help humans with Alzheimer’s disease

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Scientists from North Carolina State University found that a suite of complementary tests can quantify changes in dogs suspected of suffering from cognitive decline.

The approach could not only aid owners in managing their elderly canine’s care, but could also serve as a model for evaluating cognitive decline progression in—and treatments for—humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

The research is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and was conducted by Natasha Olby et al.

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS) is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans in that cognitive decline is associated with the development of amyloid plaques as well as cortical atrophy, progressive degeneration of brain tissue.

CCDS is also challenging to diagnose. Traditionally, CCDS is diagnosed based on ruling out any obvious physical conditions and an owner’s answers to a questionnaire.

In the study, the team wanted to determine whether cognitive function could be accurately quantified in dogs.

They recruited 39 dogs from 15 breeds. All of them were in the senior and geriatric age range, but in good health overall.

A dog is considered “senior” if it is in the last 25% of its expected life span based on breed and size, and geriatric beyond that.

The dogs underwent physical and orthopedic exams, as well as lab work that included a blood test that is a marker of neuronal death.

Their owners filled out two commonly used diagnostic questionnaires, and then the dogs participated in a series of cognitive tests designed to assess executive function, memory and attention.

The team found that cognitive and blood test results correlated well with the questionnaire scores, suggesting that a multi-dimensional approach can be used to quantify the cognitive decline in aging dogs.

They say being able to diagnose and quantify CCDS in a way that is clinically safe and relevant is a good first step toward being able to work with dogs as a model for Alzheimer’s disease in humans

Many of the current models of Alzheimer’s disease—in rodents, for example—are good for understanding physiological changes, but not for testing treatments.

These findings show promise for both dogs and humans in terms of improving our understanding of disease progression as well as for potentially testing treatments.

If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about new way to detect Alzheimer’s disease 5 years before its onset, and major surgery may boost Alzheimer’s disease risk.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about six ways to ‘reboot your brain’ after a hard year of COVID-19, and results showing COVID-19 attack on brain, not lungs, triggers severe disease.

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