BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Dementia, in any of its forms, is one of the most horrifying conditions to afflict mankind. Particularly in the form of Alzheimer’s disease, the condition runs its course by gradually wiping away the sufferer’s memories, making them wither away and even forget those they love.
The average cost for taking care of somebody with the condition for a year is around $60,000, which is more than many American citizens make in two years. So, researchers are tirelessly working to find a cure, a treatment, or anything that could make the condition even slightly more bearable.
Another one of the biggest issues faced by Alzheimer’s sufferers is that there is no way of detecting the condition until it has already made itself known to the patients and those around them. This is because the amyloid plaques that are one of the few things associated with the condition can’t be detected without the patient first dying, as the brain has to be removed for that.
Well, tests can still be done, usually by taking samples of the suspected patient’s spinal and cerebral fluids, but they are rarely correct unless the patients have already been confirmed to have the condition.
But finally, after decades of looking into the condition, scientists might have found a test that indicated the presence of the amyloid plaques in the brain, and thus the disease. According to a team of researchers from the Washington University, directional issues may signal the onset of Alzheimer’s.
The team looked at a sample of 71 participants divided into three groups. 42 were clinically healthy, with no amyloid deposits present in their spinal fluid tests. 13 were also healthy, but presented signs of having the biomarkers specific to Alzheimer’s. The final 16 already had behavioral symptoms of the disease in its early stages.
Next, the participants were tested to see if they understand and if they can follow a pre-determined route. Next, they had to create a mental map of the described route. While all of the participants had an easy time understanding the directions, those with the biomarkers present, as well as those already suffering from symptoms of the disease had a much harder time creating the mental map.
However, they still showed adept learning skill, with them easily finishing the map in the subsequent attempts. According to Denise Head, senior author of the study and associate professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences with the University of Washington,
The spatial navigation task used in this study to assess cognitive map skills was more sensitive at detecting preclinical Alzheimer’s disease than the standard psychometric task of episodic memory.
This means that tasks involving direction finding, tasks which involve a mental mapping strategy, might actually be used to develop a test for Alzheimer’s. Seeing as people have been struggling with this for decades, it’s easy to see why this could be such a huge breakthrough.
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