Are you having trouble finding your way around? According to a report from UPI, a new study suggests that difficulty navigating could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers hope that the findings could one day help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease before more pronounce symptoms begin to appear.
Alzheimer’s disease, characterized by the breakdown of neural connections in the brain, often results in an acute inability to remember even the most basic information.
Researchers examined 16 people with symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s disease and 13 people who lacked symptoms of the disease but showed preclinical biomarkers in fluid taken from the brain and spinal cord. They compared this sample to a control group of 42 healthy people who lacked the biomarkers in their cerebrospinal fluid.
The participants were set in a virtual maze at a desktop computer that was made up of a series of connected hallways. There were four different wallpaper patterns and 20 landmarks to help people remember where they were.
Scientists aimed to examine two specific skills related to navigation. They wanted to find out how a patient learned and followed a pre-set route, and how well they could navigate the maze on their own using a mental map.
They found that the group with preclinical Alzheimer’s had an easy time learning the pre-set route, but had serious trouble creating a mental map of the maze. Eventually, participants were able to catch up to the control group, but there was a considerable roadblock in their effort to find their way around the maze.
According to lead author Denise Head, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University, “These findings suggest that navigational tasks designed to assess a mental mapping strategy could represent a powerful new tool for detecting the very earliest Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in cognition.”
A press release from Washington University in St. Louis describing the details of the study can be found here.