London: A long-term memory test combined with a brain scan could help in early diagnosis of people with Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.
Scientists say testing memory over a long timescale shows early deficits in the brain's ability to remember. These are not detected by checks for short-term forgetfulness, which is the current practice for diagnosis.
The study also suggests that a brain scan in combination with a memory test could identify early abnormalities in the brain activity of Alzheimer's patients that would be otherwise undetected.
Researchers said that the type of memory loss shown by such tests could potentially be reversed by the development of new treatments.
A team at University of Edinburgh in the UK, in collaboration with colleagues in the US, studied long-term memory in young mice, some of which had the equivalent of very early stage Alzheimer's disease, and some of which were healthy.
Scientists taught both groups of mice to locate a hidden platform in a pool filled with water, using signs on the wall of the room to navigate.
The results showed that when tested shortly after the initial task, both groups of mice were able to remember the way to the platform.
However, when tested one week later, the mice in the Alzheimer's group had significantly more difficulty in remembering the route.
Tests showed that brain activity was normal in both groups of mice at this young age, when no task was involved.
However, the brain activity in the Alzheimer's group was significantly decreased compared with the healthy mice when tested as they tried to remember the way to the platform.
Scientists said the results show that when short-term memory is used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease — as is currently the case — it may not show the true extent of memory loss at the onset of the condition.
The team said that by testing long-term memory, it may be possible to detect the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease and offer interventions sooner.
"We recognise that tests with animals must be interpreted with caution, but the use of these genetic models in conjunction with appropriate testing is pointing at an important dimension of early diagnosis," said Professor Richard Morris from Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2016 16:18:31 IST