Woman side view, memory loss, cognitive decline, forgetting things, degenerative disease. Brain problems. Parkinson and Alzheimer´s desease.
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Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NY have developed a simple memory test that may predict the risk of developing cognitive impairment related to diseases such as Alzheimer’s years before symptoms appear.

Early cognitive decline tends to appear in the form of memory loss and difficulty concentrating. Dementia is typically diagnosed when the impairment becomes severe enough to make daily tasks unmanageable. With dementia rates on the rise, early detection of cognitive decline in an attempt to slow down the disease is more important than ever.

Reporting in Neurology, scientists have now conducted a study predicting cognitive impairment involving nearly a thousand participants with an average age of 69 with no thinking or memory problems at the start of the investigation. Participants were given a simple memory test and monitored for up to ten years.

“There is increasing evidence that some people with no thinking and memory problems may actually have very subtle signs of early cognitive impairment,” said Ellen Grober, PhD, clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of the study.

“In our study, a sensitive and simple memory test predicted the risk of developing cognitive impairment in people who were otherwise considered to have normal cognition.”

During the test, participants were asked to remember cards with drawings of items and then recall them at a later point in time. Based on their scores, participants were then divided into five groups ranging from stage zero, representing no memory problems, to stage four in which individuals showed significant issues remembering the items even when presented with cues.

Out of the participants a total of 47 percent were in stage zero, 48 percent in stages one and two, and five percent in the final two stages. After adjusting for age, sex, education and APOE4, researchers found when compared to people who were at stage zero, people at stages three and four were three times as likely to develop cognitive impairment.

Using this scoring system, called Stages of Objective Memory Impairment (SOMI), researchers estimated that after 10 years nearly 70 percent of those in stages three and four would have developed cognitive impairment. Even after adjusting for biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease the SOMI system continued to predict an increased risk of cognitive decline.

 “Our results support the use of the SOMI system to identify people most likely to develop cognitive impairment,” said Grober. “Detecting cognitive impairment at its earliest stages is beneficial to researchers investigating treatments. It also could benefit those people who are found to be at increased risk by consulting with their physician and implementing interventions to promote healthy brain aging.”

As a next step, the researchers aim to conduct studies in larger and more diverse populations using their memory testing technique in order to validate its mechanism and contribute to the early detection of diseases caused by cognitive decline.

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