Research Matters

Research Matters

Early Alzheimer's Clue


David K. Johnson, KU professor of psychology, and colleagues from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that testing a person's aptitude with spatial relationships between objects - the same skills needed to complete a jigsaw puzzle - could indicate Alzheimer's disease years earlier than conventional methods that rely on verbal memory.

Aired November 1, 2009


2 minutes 3.7 MB) | Download mp3

Transcript

A massive research effort shows how Alzheimer's could be diagnosed in its earliest stages. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

David K. Johnson, KU professor of psychology, and colleagues from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that testing a person's aptitude with spatial relationships between objects - the same skills needed to complete a jigsaw puzzle - could indicate Alzheimer's disease years earlier than conventional methods that rely on verbal memory.

Johnson: "We saw that there were not only verbal memory changes - the classical, hallmark features of Alzheimer's disease - but there were a lot of other cognitive declines as well, most notably visuospatial defect," Johnson said.

Johnson said the first sign of Alzheimer's could be loss of the ability to interpret visual information - such as the pencil and paper tests given to research volunteers who were later found to have had Alzheimer's. 10

Johnson: "For instance, one test that went into this is where someone looked at squares and triangles and circles and X's randomly strewn about a page, and they get to study that for 30 seconds. Then we take away the page and ask them to draw it from memory. Even if we put that piece of paper and leave it there in front of them and ask them to copy it, they're still having trouble interpreting that visual stimulus."

Reviewing data from almost 450 volunteers, Johnson and his colleagues found that visuospatial skills declined measurably three years before clinical diagnosis.

Johnson: "We're desperate to find a treatment that can halt or even reverse Alzheimer's disease. We're pretty far away from that right now. If we can detect a person early enough, we have a much better chance of interfering with the disease, because by the time someone actually receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease there's unfortunately pretty significant damage done already."

For more on visuospatial deficit and Alzheimer's disease, log onto Research Matters dot K-U dot E-D-U. For the university of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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