Physical balance may not seem like it would be associated with cognitive function.
But in a study from the University of Tsukuba, scientists have developed a new way to predict cognitive problems according to physical balance.
They have found a new measure of physical balance that could help to identify people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a medical condition characterized by minor changes in cognitive ability.
As people with this condition have an enhanced risk of progression to AD, the early identification of MCI can guide medical interventions that could prevent this outcome.
Problems with physical balance have long been understood to occur in individuals with AD, who have a high frequency of falls, and those with MCI have similar changes in vestibular function.
Therefore, it may be possible to screen individuals for MCI before they show symptoms according to whether they have problems with physical balance.
However, currently few options are available for efficient balance screening in the general population.
In the study, researchers built a new method for evaluating balance capability and vestibular function using a Nintendo Wii balance board with foam rubber.
The scale was called the visual dependency index of postural stability (VPS). Healthy volunteers aged 56–75 with no apparent cognitive impairment completed the VPS, as well as measures of cognitive function.
The team found that scores on the VPS were highly linked to cognitive impairment assessed using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which is a commonly used tool for screening cognitive ability.
Furthermore, the scale had relatively high sensitivity and specificity, indicating that it was successful in picking up important clues to indicate whether a person was at risk of developing AD.
The findings indicate that features of MCI were easily picked up by the VPS. As such, this new scale may be a useful way to screen for MCI in the general population.
Given that problems with physical balance are known to occur in individuals with MCI and AD, the VPS could be an inexpensive and accessible way to screen for cognitive impairment in the general population.
The early and accurate detection of MCI could lead to new options for treatment, which could dramatically improve outcomes for individuals with neurodegenerative conditions.
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The study was conducted by Professor Naoya Yahagi et al and published in BMC Geriatrics.
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