New test could detect early-stage dementia

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have developed a new model for reading cognitive test scores that could predict dementia in older adults. And that could improve early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, cognitive tests are used to diagnose dementia, but it can be challenging for doctors to parse out who has dementia, because normal, healthy people will have low scores in some areas.

For the study, published in the journal Neuropsychology, researchers analyzed the records of 528 people who were referred to the Psychology Clinic for cognitive testing for dementia between 1996 and 2004. All patients were 60 or older. Researchers also analyzed 135 older adults who were part of a study on normal aging.

Both groups completed cognitive tests involving memory, language, attention, processing speed and drawing abilities.  From the tests, researchers found that the scores of healthy adults showed a symmetrical bell curve, which suggested that each person was naturally skilled in some areas over others.

The dementia group was split up based on the severity of their condition. When comparing their test scores, researchers found that dementia caused the healthy bell curve shape to become asymmetrical, meaning lopsidedness in their scores correlated to dementia.

Researchers concluded that those with symmetrical scores were unlikely to develop dementia, and those with the lopsided scores were already experiencing dementia at varying levels. Researchers hope the new statistical model could help diagnose dementia earlier and begin treatment immediately.

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