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New model indicates when memory loss is Alzheimer's disease

November 19, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Healthcare professionals one day may be able to determine when memory loss in seniors indicates Alzheimer's disease.

A new model still being tested could help physicians establish an accurate prognosis earlier in the course of the disease—at the first office visit—and start treating people based on that knowledge. For instance, healthcare professionals could use the results to reassure patients who are not at risk of dementia while offering medical interventions for those who are, says David J. Schretlen, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of a study published online in the journal Neuropsychology. Those likely headed for the disease could be counseled to organize their affairs and work on knocking items off their “bucket lists,” he adds, and they also could be guided into clinical trials of medications to slow dementia progression.

The investigators from Johns Hopkins developed the model after analyzing the records of 528 people aged 60 or more years who underwent cognitive testing as part of a dementia work-up between 1996 and 2004. They compared the results with those of 135 healthy older adults who participated in a study of normal aging.

Both groups’ memory, language, attention, processing speed and drawing abilities were measured, and 13 scores were recorded. By organizing the patients into cohorts based on the severity of their dementia, the researchers found a trend in their test scores that is likely to mimic the deterioration of an individual's scores over time: Regardless of the lowness of a person's test scores, the researchers determined that “lopsidedness” in their score distribution correlated with dementia.

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