Psychologists hunt for new ways to detect precursors to Alzheimer's Disease

WASHINGTON New research points toward the use of neuro-psychological testing to identify people at risk for Alzheimers Disease (AD), well ahead of the onset of clinical signs. Understanding hereditys role in cognitive abilities, and its link to Alzheimers-type attention deficits, may also aid early diagnosis. The sooner, the better: Early detection could allow doctors to intervene with drugs that have the potential to protect against significant brain damage. Currently, there are no reliable ways to detect and treat the disease before the brain has been significantly damaged by AD, a form of dementia that is believed to afflict up to four million Americans.

Two different studies that attack the problem from the standpoint of both cognitive abilities and genetics appear in the April issue of Neuropsychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In the first study, researchers at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, and the University of California, San Diego, began with two bits of knowledge: First, subtle cognitive changes can precede disease onset by as many as seven to 10 years; second, brain images of many AD patients reveal asymmetrical -- uneven -- changes to the brain.

With those changes in mind, the research team scrutinized neuropsychological test data from 40 people, averaging about 75 years old, enrolled in a long-term study at the universitys Alzheimers Disease Research Center. Mark Jacobson, Ph.D., of the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and his co-researchers compared the cognitive performance of two groups within that sample. People in the first group of 20, the pre-clinical group, were diagnosed with possible Alzheimers Disease within a year or two of testing. The other 20 people, who remained symptom-free for several years after testing, became a matched control group.

The researchers looked for whether either group had been markedly stronger on some neuropsychologi

Contact: APA Public Affairs Office
American Psychological Association

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