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Johns Hopkins research may improve early detection of dementia
Date:11/11/2013

Using scores obtained from cognitive tests, Johns Hopkins researchers think they have developed a model that could help determine whether memory loss in older adults is benign or a stop on the way to Alzheimer's disease.

The risk of developing dementia increases markedly when a person is diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, a noticeable and measurable decline in intellectual abilities that does not seriously interfere with daily life. But physicians have no reliable way to predict which people with mild cognitive impairment are likely to be in the 5 to 10 percent a year who progress to dementia.

In a proof-of-concept study, the Johns Hopkins investigators analyzed records of 528 people age 60 and over, who were referred to the Johns Hopkins Medical Psychology Clinic for cognitive testing as part of a dementia work-up between 1996 and 2004. The results were compared to those of 135 healthy older adults who participated in a study of normal aging. Both groups completed tests of memory, language, attention, processing speed and drawing abilities from which 13 scores were recorded.

Since each person is naturally more skillful in some areas than in others, the scores of healthy adults showed a symmetrical, bell-shaped range: Most of their scores were high, a few were a bit lower, and a few were even lower. By grouping the patients into cohorts based on the severity of their dementia, the researchers found a trend in the test scores that is likely to mimic the deterioration of an individual's scores over time.

At the outset, he says, Alzheimer's disease subtly disrupts some mental abilities, while leaving others intact. Thus, well before a person develops clear cognitive impairment, his or her performance declines slightly on a few measures. When shown on a graph, these changes cause the healthy symmetric, bell-shaped curve to shift and become asymmetrical.

Regardless of how low a person's test scores were, the
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Contact: Stephanie Desmon
sdesmon1@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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