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The Early Indications of Alzheimer’s Might be Seen Years Before other Symptoms: Experts


New research indicates that a person’s navigational skills might serve as an early predictor of Alzheimer’s disease, potentially years before the onset of other symptoms.

Doctors caution that signs of Alzheimer’s could emerge years, or even decades, ahead of other noticeable symptoms.

Studies suggest that an individual’s navigational capacity could serve as an early indicator of Alzheimer’s, manifesting long before other cognitive impairments become evident.

Recent research reveals that individuals at risk of Alzheimer’s tend to display difficulties with spatial navigation before experiencing problems with memory and other cognitive functions.

These findings may pave the way for the development of a diagnostic tool to support the NHS in the future. Under the direction of UCL academics, the study evaluated 100 asymptomatic persons between the ages of 43 and 66 using virtual reality. This is around 25 years younger than the predicted age at which dementia start occurs.

According to the study, even though they did not exhibit any cognitive impairment on other tests, people who are more likely to acquire Alzheimer’s disease had difficulty with the VR navigation task. It’s interesting to note that the impairment was only seen in men, not in women, indicating a major gender difference in performance.

The experts interpret this to mean that problems in spatial navigation may start years, or even decades, before any other symptoms manifest. The study’s first author, Dr. Coco Newton of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, stated during her time at the University of Cambridge: “Our results indicated that this type of navigation behaviour change might represent the very earliest diagnostic signal in the Alzheimer’s disease continuum when people move from being unimpaired to showing manifestation of the disease.”

The research subjects included in the report were identified as having genetic, familial, or lifestyle factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease. They were included in the PREVENT-Dementia prospective cohort study. This included people who had a particular gene susceptibility, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, or certain lifestyle choices including inactivity.
Professor Dennis Chan oversaw the study’s use of an exam that Dr. Andrea Castegnaro and Professor Neil Burgess designed, in which participants used VR headsets to explore a virtual environment.

Dr Newton detailed: “We are now taking these findings forward to develop a diagnostic clinical decision support tool for the NHS in the coming years, which is a completely new way of approaching diagnostics and will hopefully help people to get a more timely and accurate diagnosis.”

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