Improved dementia diagnosis possible, new study shows

November 26, 2013 by Jessica Luton, University of Georgia

(Medical Xpress)—Nearly 36 million people worldwide are estimated to currently have dementia. That number is expected to almost double every 20 years. Researchers are diligently working to find better, more accurate methods for earlier diagnosis.

According to recently published research from the University of Georgia's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology, scientists may be one step closer to a better biomarker for earlier detection of mild , the leading predictor of and Alzheimer's disease in .

Psychology professor and Bio-Imaging Research Center director Stephen Miller, along with former graduate student Carlos Faraco, used fMRI brain scans-scans that give researchers not only a visual picture of the structure of the brain but also information about blood flow within the brain-to test the working memory of adults with normal healthy adult brains against those showing signs of mild cognitive impairment. The research was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

While researchers have looked at stored memory in terms of mild cognitive impairment and dementia research, working memory is a relatively new area of research in the fMRI research realm.

Initial results from the study show hyperactivity in the lateral temporal lobes, the area of the brain associated with working memory. Hyperactivity here means that the brain is exerting more energy to complete a task, which may be a biomarker for developing dementia.

"Broadly, we're interested in finding more ways to identify people at risk for developing dementia," said Miller. "So, one of the ways that's been developed over the last few years is identifying a group of individuals who seem to be at higher risk for developing dementia based on early, relatively subtle signs of cognitive difficulties."

Individuals with generally have mild memory problems, forgetfulness and may have difficulty with spatial recognition and information recall, as well as learning new pieces of information; however, they are still functionally fine and living independently.

"After about five years about half of these individuals with MCI convert to dementia, mostly to Alzheimer's dementia," said Miller. "But half of them don't. So, everybody is looking for more sensitive markers of that."

Researchers have been using fMRI brain scans for some time now to look at parts of the brain that are associated with stored memory, mainly the and the hippocampus. However, Miller's team decided to look at the part of the brain that is associated with working memory-the lateral temporal lobes.

Our brains use working memory when we hold a piece of information, manipulate it and hold it in our memory until it's time to be used, all within a relatively short amount of time. Remembering and dialing a telephone number after someone calls it out orally, despite a small distraction like the doorbell ringing, is an example of working memory in use.

To test working memory, Miller and his research partners tested both older adults with MCI and older adults with normal functioning brains using a series of complex working memory tasks. They tasked participants with using working memory in two tasks-clicking on the correct color dot and remembering a sequence of letters-with one working memory task interrupting the next. At the end of the tasks, participants then had to recall information from those tasks.

Researchers then used scans to examine brain activity when participants were completing tasks and at the end when participants were recalling information.

The findings, he said, are particularly interesting and could lead to better biomarkers for dementia, as other studies using fMRI scans testing stored memory are more difficult to read due to their placement next to sinus air passages that often makes imagery blurry.

While Miller admits that other researchers need to replicate this research and further test the hypothesis, the initial results from this study suggest that fMRI scans of the could give doctors earlier diagnostic tools someday.

"This adds to the literature another somewhat novel marker of likely differences between MCI individuals and normal individuals than hasn't been described in the literature very much, if at all," he said. "If it shows to be consistent, so that MCIs are consistently hyperactive in these lateralized temporal areas, in combination with what we already know about medial temporal lobe areas, that will hone in on being able to effectively identify those who have MCI versus those that don't."

Explore further: Breakthrough discerns normal memory loss from disease

More information: Read the complete journal article at www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S0028393213002601

Related Stories

Breakthrough discerns normal memory loss from disease

September 6, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Cornell researchers have developed a reliable method to distinguish memory declines associated with healthy aging from the more-serious memory disorders years before obvious symptoms emerge. The method ...

Study shows emotional contagion increases in Alzheimer's patients

May 28, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers working at the University of California's Memory and Aging Center has found that emotional contagion appears to increase in a linear progression with patients who have Alzheimer's ...

Exercise may be the best medicine for Alzheimer's disease

July 30, 2013
New research out of the University of Maryland School of Public Health shows that exercise may improve cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer's by increasing the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory. ...

Stress reduction through meditation may aid in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease

November 18, 2013
It's well known that the brains of meditators change, but it's not entirely clear what those changes mean or how the changes might benefit the meditator. A new pilot study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical ...

Memory decline may be earliest sign of dementia

July 17, 2013
(AP)—Memory problems that are often dismissed as a normal part of aging may not be so harmless after all.

Tracing the impact of amyloid beta in mild cognitive impairment

January 15, 2013
The amount of amyloid β (Aβ) in the brains of people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is contributing to early memory loss, and increases with severity of symptoms, finds a study in BioMed Central's open access journal ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...

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.