Risk of Alzheimer’s disease might be predicted by a new non-invasive test developed by researchers from the University of Texas.
While fairly affordable, the test has identified that people who suffer from amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) have a different and specific variation in brain waves that’s consistent with a doubled risk of developing Alzheimer’s in their age group.
Experiments detected a sort of delayed neural activity that is known to be the cause of severe impairment of one’s cognitive performance. This ability was tested with the help of a word finding task and it led scientists to believe it could indicate an early onset of the neurocognitive regression that Alzheimer’s disease comes with.
One of Alzheimer’s hallmark symptoms is impaired episodic memory, which messes with the patient’s ability to remember new memories – including recent events, conversations or upcoming meetings.
The new approach in diagnosing the disease uses electroencephalogram (EEG) technology, a non-invasive alternative that might prove more affordable for the everyday people dealing with Alzheimer’s; this technology basically measures how the participant’s brain waves react when they try to access long-term or semantic memory.
According to one of the leading researcher John Hart, head of Medical Science at the Centre for Brain Health, this is a promising start in applying the technology on patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who appeared to take their time when asked to do the semantic memory task; their results were also less accurate than those offered by the healthy control group.
During the study, researchers monitored by EEG 16 individuals with MCI and 17 healthy individuals who were used as controls, as they were showed pairs of words that either led the subject to think of an object, or were just randomly paired.
For example, ‘summer’ and ‘frozen’ would have the participants think of the word ‘ice cream’, but pairing ‘summer’ and ‘monitor’ together would be just a random pair. All the participants had to do was to press a button whenever the presented pair would evoke a particular object memory.
Previous studies related to EEG have focused on observing the mind ‘at rest’, but the new study was keen on monitoring the brain precisely when it was engaged in the process of retrieving object memories.
Senior author Hsueh-Sheng Chiang, a post-doctoral fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Centre, explained that certain cognitive deficits – such as semantic memory issues – are easier to be identified by using this sensitive technology, as EEG looks directly at the neural activity.
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