Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 70% of all people with dementia.

People with Alzheimer’s have a number of different symptoms which are unique to each individual.

Some people experience frequent memory difficulties, loss of enthusiasm for previously enjoyed activities, inability to process questions and instructions, deterioration of social skills, emotional unpredictability.

Generally, the symptoms result in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour.

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and while there is a large amount of research looking into how to delay the condition, other research is focusing on how to detect the dementia risk and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently, a team from the University of Birmingham – in conjunction with scientists the University of Kent and University of California – believe they have created a simple reading test that can indicate whether the participants are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

What researchers have found is that a delay in processing written words, could indicate that a person is likely to have Alzheimer’s disease along with memory challenges later in life.  

It’s not simply a matter of if the person can read or not – what the research team do is use a device that measures brain activity, more specifically how quickly an individual responded to words they were shown on a computer screen.

What was found was that people who responded more slowly had an increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s within the next three years.

The study involved 25 people, some of whom were healthy, and some who had mild cognitive impairment, while others with Alzheimer’s disease.

It should be noted that mild cognitive impairment is not a type of dementia, but people with this impairment have minor problems with mental abilities such as memory.

Dr Katrien Segaert, part of the University of Birmingham team explained that “crucially, what we found in our study is that this brain response is aberrant in individuals who will go on in the future to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but intact in patients who remained stable.”

“Our findings were unexpected as language is usually affected by Alzheimer’s disease in much later stages of the onset of the disease.”

“It is possible that this breakdown of the brain network associated with language comprehension in patients with mild cognitive impairment could be a crucial biomarker used to identify patients likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

Though the initial research was done on a small sample of people, the research teams are now looking to analyse a larger group of people to see if a slower reaction when presented with a word is a specific predictor of Alzheimer’s or rather a general precursor to dementia.

Dr Segaert explained that “the verification of this biomarker could lead the way to early pharmacological intervention and the development of a new low cost and non-invasive test using electroencephalogram [the test that detects electrical brain activity]”, and should a simple low cost method be created from this research, then the test could become a  part of a routine when a person first reports concerns about memory issues to their GP.

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