Memory Isn’t The First To Go: More Early Warnings of Alzheimer’s

October 13, 2009 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

Jigsaw Jigsaw Puzzle Image by Daino 16 on Stock.Xhcng Last week, I mentioned a study about money management troubles as an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.  This week, there’s information on what may be an even earlier detectible change in cognitive processes – problems with visual and spatial skills.

Visuospatial functions allow us to judge where objects are in relation to one another (and to ourselves) – they’re what tell us that the glass of tea is behind and to the right of the plate our sandwich is sitting on, and what tells us how fast and how far away the oncoming traffic is.   They also allow us to picture them in our heads, so we can draw mental maps, rotate jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit together, even recognize faces.  Spatial skills are crucial for our day to day lives, and fairly easy to measure with simple tests.

And new research suggests these skills may be the first to go, as Alzheimer’s develops. 

In a study just published in the Archives of Neurology journal, 444 people were followed over 6 years, and regularly tested on their cognitive functions.  134 of the participants were diagnosed with ‘Alzheimer’s during the course of the study – and when the scientists looked at their results from their assessments, one section stood out to them: their visuospatial skills had begun to falter as early as three years before they were diagnosed with dementia.

Alzheimer’s is usually detected and diagnosed when memory problems become obvious, but in this study, issues with memory weren’t apparent until a year before they were severe enough for the diagnosis.

So a failing memory isn’t the first sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s… problems with spatial skills are.

Why is this important?

Early detection of Alzheimer’s is crucial on multiple levels.  Since the disease is progressive, it’s important to get treatments started early. The earlier treatments are started, the more likely it is to delay or minimize the progression of symptoms.  And with hopes of actual cures and effective preventive measures on the horizon, it’s important to improve diagnostic procedures now, so they’re in place when more effective treatements do become available.

Early diagnosis also allows the patient and their families more time to plan,  when the patient still has full command of their mental abilities and judgement.  That can make a huge difference to every one involved, and relieve a great deal of stress.

So if you’re worrying about Alzheimer’s, quit fretting about how many times you lost your car keys last week.  Put together a jigsaw puzzle, or play a game of Tetris – and if it doesn’t seem any more difficult than usual, you can probably relax a bit, and just buy yourself a spare set of keys.

Don’t miss out on Dakim’s “Give Thanks for Loved Ones” Contest, running now through November 5th.  You could win a $2500 brain fitness system for a senior friend or family member!

Entry filed under: Supporting Science & Medicine. Tags: , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
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Authored by Tori Deaux
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