Dementia can refer to more than 100 forms of brain decline caused by disease. The leading cause is Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterised by impaired memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the inability to carry out the simplest task. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but spotting the condition early can prolong quality of life.
In fact, spotting Alzheimer’s as early as possible is the goal that animates leading researchers.
A new study has made an important contribution to this effort, highlighting the role that self-perception may play in indicating Alzheimer’s.
A research team led by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) concluded that personal perception can be an important indicator for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study of 449 older adults, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the scientists report that individuals with subjectively felt memory problems also exhibited on average measurable cognitive deficits that were associated with abnormalities in the spinal fluid.
The findings could have implications for early diagnosis and therapy development.
How did they arrive at this verdict?
A total of 449 women and men – their average age was about 70 years – participated in the study.
Of this group, 240 individuals were included via memory clinics of the participating university hospitals.
These persons had consulted the clinics for diagnostic clarification of persistent subjective cognitive complaints, usually after a doctor’s referral.
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However, in the usual tests they were assessed as cognitively normal – it was thus determined that they had “subjective cognitive decline” (SCD).
When memory deteriorates according to one’s own perception, but mental performance – following objective criteria – is still within the normal range, this is referred to as SCD).
The other 209 study participants were classified as cognitively healthy based on interviews and the same cognitive testing.
They had decided to participate in the study following newspaper advertisements.
“We were able to show that those people who turned to a memory clinic because of SCD had measurable, albeit only mild cognitive deficits,” explained Dr Steffen Wolfsgruber, lead author of the current publication.
The findings are based on extensive testing, refined data analysis and the relatively large number of people examined.
“This significantly improved measurement sensitivity. Thus, we found that study participants considered to be healthy generally scored better in mental performance than memory clinic patients with SCD,” said Dr Steffen Wolfsgruber.
Dr Wolfsgruber added: “These differences are hardly detectable with standard methods of analysis and in small groups of people. Especially not on an individual level. In any case, you need a large data set.”
Can Alzheimer’s be prevented?
As the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, there’s no certain way to prevent the condition.
But a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk.
“Cardiovascular disease has been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia,” explains the NHS.
The health body added: “You may be able to reduce your risk of developing these conditions – as well as other serious problems, such as strokes and heart attacks – by taking steps to improve your cardiovascular health.”
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