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Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease with a long-term memory test

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have used a combination of neuroimaging and long-term memory tests which could prove successful in making an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. This means that people with Alzheimer’s may be able to benefit from a much earlier diagnosis, and thus receive the treatment that they need. By testing memory over a long period of time, it’s possible to reveal issues with memory which are not usually picked up during checks for short-term memory problems. At the moment, diagnoses are made on the back of these short-term memory tests.

The researchers also suggest that when combined with a brain scan, it is possible to use a long-term memory test to identify the first signs of abnormality in the brain activity that would otherwise go undetected. Furthermore, they suggest that with the development of new treatments, it would be possible to reverse this type of memory loss.

The Edinburgh researchers worked in collaboration with colleagues from the US to study long-term memory in mice. One group of mice had the equivalent of very early stage Alzheimer’s disease, while the control group was made up of healthy rodents. Both groups of mice were taught how to locate a hidden platform in a water-filled pool. They did this by using wall signs to find their way around the room. Both groups of mice were able to remember the way to the platform when tested shortly after the initial task. However, one week later, the mice with Alzheimer’s were struggling to remember the route.

The scientists examined the brain activity of both groups of mice and found that it was normal when no task was involved. However, in comparison to the control group, the brain activity in the Alzheimer’s group decreased significantly as they tried to remember how to find the platform. The results led the researchers to suggest that when short-term memory tests are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s, they may not show the full extent of the memory loss. However, by testing long-term memory, it’s more likely that physicians will be able to detect the early signs of the disease, and thus be able to offer more prompt interventions.

If you’d like to read more, the research was published online in the June 1 edition of Nature Communications.

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