Eye-tracking test could facilitate earlier Alzheimer's diagnoses

September 18, 2012

With the steady increase in the life expectancy of Europe's population, researchers estimate that the number of people affected by age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, will increase dramatically in the next few years. This makes improving our understanding of the disease and its early diagnosis an important priority. New research, led by Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, in partnership with Royal Preston Hospital, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS foundation trust, and published in the Journal of the American Aging Association, shows that people with Alzheimer's disease have difficulty with one particular type of eye-tracking test.

That a simple eye-tracking test could hold the key to earlier Alzheimer's diagnosis is an important finding, according to Dr Trevor Crawford from the Department of Psychology and the Centre for Ageing Research, Lancaster University. He noted that these new results were potentially very exciting as they demonstrated, for the first time, a connection with the that is so often the first noticeable symptom in Alzheimer's disease.

'The diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is currently heavily dependent on the results of a series of lengthy ,' Dr Crawford said. 'However, patients with a often find that these tests are difficult to complete due to a lack of clear understanding and lapse in their attention or motivation.

'Over the last 10 years researchers in laboratories around the world have been working on an alternative approach based on the brain's control of the movements of the eye as a tool for investigating such as attention, cognitive and memory.'

In the study, 18 patients with Alzheimer's disease, 25 patients with Parkinson's disease, 17 healthy young people and 18 healthy older people were asked to follow the movements of light on a , and in some instances they were asked to look the opposite way, away from the light.

What the research group found were stark contrasts in the eye-tracking measurements taken from the research sample. In particular, patients with Alzheimer's made mistakes on the task where they were asked to look away from the light and were unable correct those errors, despite the fact that they were able to respond perfectly normally when they were asked to look towards the light. These uncorrected errors were 10 times more frequent in the Alzheimer's patients compared to the control groups.

Researchers also measured memory function among those Alzheimer's patients who found the test difficult and were able to show a clear correlation with lower memory function.

'This study takes this work forward because we found strong evidence that the difficulty in noticing and correcting the errors was probably caused by a problem in the memory networks of the brain that allow us to store the spatial position of objects in the environment,' Dr Crawford explained. 'The light tracking test could play a vital role in diagnosis as it allows us to identify, and exclude number alternative explanations of the test results.'

Explore further: Are the eyes the key to a new test for Alzheimer's disease?

More information: Crawford, T.J., et al. The role of working memory and attentional disengagement on inhibitory control: effects of aging and Alzheimer's disease'. AGE, 2012.

Related Stories

Are the eyes the key to a new test for Alzheimer's disease?

August 23, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—​A simple eye tracking test could hold the key to earlier Alzheimer's diagnosis, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Aging Association.

Early-onset Alzheimer's not always associated with memory loss

May 19, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a recent study published in the journal Neurology, scientists say that individuals who develop early-onset Alzheimer's in middle age are at a high risk of being misdiagnosed because many of their initial ...

Blood test for Alzheimer's: Study identifies procedure that detects early stages

May 4, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new blood test that will diagnose Alzheimer's disease may soon hit the market, thanks to an innovative study from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). Their findings ...

Test could detect Alzheimer's disease earlier than previously possible

May 16, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new study has revealed the possibility of using a simple test for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, enabling the condition to be identified before significant and irreversible decline ...

Recommended for you

Multi-gene test predicts Alzheimer's better than APOE E4 alone

September 22, 2017
A new test that combines the effects of more than two dozen genetic variants, most associated by themselves with only a small risk of Alzheimer's disease, does a better job of predicting which cognitively normal older adults ...

Personality changes don't precede clinical onset of Alzheimer's, study shows

September 21, 2017
For years, scientists and physicians have been debating whether personality and behavior changes might appear prior to the onset of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

Newly ID'd role of major Alzheimer's gene suggests possible therapeutic target

September 20, 2017
Nearly a quarter century ago, a genetic variant known as ApoE4 was identified as a major risk factor for Alzheimer's disease—one that increases a person's chances of developing the neurodegenerative disease by up to 12 ...

Is the Alzheimer's gene the ring leader or the sidekick?

September 15, 2017
The notorious genetic marker of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, ApoE4, may not be a lone wolf.

Potential noninvasive test for Alzheimer's disease

September 6, 2017
In the largest and most conclusive study of its kind, researchers have analysed blood samples to create a novel and non-invasive way of helping to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and distinguishing between different types of ...

Researchers unlock the molecular origins of Alzheimer's disease

September 6, 2017
A "twist of fate" that is minuscule even on the molecular level may cause the development of Alzheimer's disease, VCU researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.