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Alzheimer’s or Normal Aging? Scientists May Finally Be Able to Tell

Alzheimer’s or Normal Aging? Scientists May Finally Be Able to Tell

Have you ever lost your keys or blanked on a friend’s name and wondered whether you’re developing Alzheimer’s?

This fear is common among people who are middle-aged and older, many of whom have taken care of a family member with the disease, or know someone who has.

Unfortunately, even the most knowledgeable neuroscientists can’t offer much guidance when it comes to distinguishing between a benign memory lapse and a sign that dementia is looming on the horizon. Current diagnostic tests and scans aren’t always reliable and often have difficulty narrowing down the precise cause of a person’s cognitive impairment.

A recent discovery by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine may clear up some of this confusion. A team led by David Schretlen, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, made an important breakthrough that could lead to better identification of (and more effective treatment for) people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. “If we are going to have any hope of helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease, we need to do it as early as possible. Once the brain deteriorates, there’s no coming back,” he says in a press release.

During the study, hundreds of adults aged 60 and over were given a series of tests to gauge their mental agility, attention span, language capabilities and memory recall. Some of the elders had been diagnosed with dementia of varying levels of severity, while others were considered cognitively “normal” for their age. Scientists then plotted each person’s test results and made a startling observation.

The plotted scores of the healthy adults all resembled the same form—a relatively even, bell-shaped curve. Due to individual differences in mental skills, some curves were lower than others, but the overall outline remained consistent.

In people with dementia, however, this curve became lopsided, signaling a decline in certain areas of cognitive functioning. Study authors believe that this uneven appearance could be used to separate mental declines caused by dementia from those caused by normal aging, since a person with early-stage dementia typically experiences the deterioration of some of their mental abilities, but not all.

Further testing needs to be conducted to verify the accuracy of the model discovered by Schretlen and his colleagues, but the pattern holds the promise to help doctors more easily identify individuals with dementia earlier, and thus intervene sooner in the disease process.

Related

The Peanut Butter Sniff Test for Alzheimer’s

8 Truths of Dementia Caregiving

Who’s Worse Off: People With Alzheimer’s or Their Caregivers?

Read more: Aging, Alzheimer's, Health, News & Issues, , , ,

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

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88 comments

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12:47PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

This was a very interesting article. I also went on the article if: "The Peanut Butter Sniff Test for Alzheimer's" this was okay. All I can say about this is that it is coming from those Chem Trails that are up in our sky. There have been studies on this and it is affecting not only people but animals, plant life, the bees, etc. I have seen my parents being touched with this!! Very heasrt stricken by all of this.

12:10AM PST on Nov 23, 2013

Thanks.

6:16PM PST on Nov 22, 2013

I cared for my mother in her home for almost 10 years before she went to hospital, and finally after 11 weeks, into a care home. The most challenging times were the early ones, when she was trying to have control, but couldn't and would fight and struggle to maintain some sense of being personal power. Memory loss is only a small part of AD. Cognitive dysfunction; outbursts of emotion, inability to understand, forgetting how to eat, how to dress, wash and go to the bathroom follow. Putting her bathrobe into the microwave and turning it on blew up the microwave. Another robe in the oven caught fire. We'd find clothes neatly folded in the fridge. She would horde things in her pockets, and take things from stores. I saw her gazing in the mirror many times, looking for herself...it was heartbreaking. I gave her a piece of pizza one day, but she didn't know what it was or what to do with it. She just kept saying, I don't understand. That night I realized I had to spoon feed her. Then came diapering, and wet sheets in the middle of the night, spilled things...attempts to hit or scratch us when trying to wash her. Sensations of water could induce pain, as the nervous system was changing. Even cool water would feel like she was being burned. Later patients forget how to swallow.
My father hired caregivers to give us a break. We had fantastic women coming several times a week as companions, and for putting her to bed. Now they come to visit her in the care home, to feed her, talk wi

10:14AM PST on Nov 22, 2013

Thanks

7:29AM PST on Nov 22, 2013

Great news!!!

3:21AM PST on Nov 22, 2013

thanks

3:03AM PST on Nov 22, 2013

thank you, gonna flag the spammer too when the link re-appears. dunno why they disappear sometimes. weird.

6:23PM PST on Nov 21, 2013

These tests are done routinely by doctors here (Australia)

12:49AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

Thank you :)

3:44AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

Thanks for sharing this

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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