Though most of us might assume that the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, new research suggests that trouble with navigation may happen first.
The study has found that well before a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be made, patients struggle with mapping and finding their way around new surroundings.
Participants were asked to navigate a virtual maze on a computer, using wallpaper patterns and other landmarks for finding their way around. People who had preclinical Alzheimer’s showed significant difficulties in forming a cognitive map of the environment, compared to other members of the population.
“These findings suggest that navigational tasks designed to assess a cognitive mapping strategy could represent a powerful new tool for detecting the very earliest Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in cognition,” says Denise Head, senior author of the study and Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
Understanding the way that changes related to Alzheimer’s develop in the brain could ultimately lead to earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which would enable patients to access support and services before memory loss develops.
Andrea Korsunsky, Director of Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care, says, “We welcome research that seeks to identify the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. The earlier we can diagnose Alzheimer’s, the sooner people with the disease and their families can seek medical interventions and support to help reduce some of the challenges that come with memory loss, including planning for the future and talking with your family about what is important to you.”
If you are caring for a loved one who is experiencing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, our Center for Dementia Care can help.
To find out more or schedule your family’s dementia care consultation, call Seniors At Home at 415-449-3700 or contact us online.