Home » News » New Test Differentiates Alzheimer’s, Normal Aging

New Test Differentiates Alzheimer’s, Normal Aging

New Test Differentiates Between Alzheimer’s and Normal Aging A new research study suggests a new cognitive test can determine whether memory impairment is due to very mild Alzheimer’s disease or the normal aging process.

Memory impairments and other early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are often difficult to differentiate from the effects of normal aging.

The inability to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s in the early stages makes it difficult for doctors to recommend treatment for those affected until the disease has progressed.

Care for Alzheimer’s is a critical issue as the number of Americans living with the disease will increase from five million in 2014 to as many as 16 million by 2050.

Previous studies have shown that a part of the brain called the hippocampus is important to relational memory — the “ability to bind together various items of an event,” said Jim Monti, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois.

Being able to connect a person’s name with his or her face is one example of relational memory.

“These two pieces of information are stored in different parts of the brain, but the hippocampus ‘binds’ them so that the next time you see that person, you remember his or her name,” Monti said.

As prior studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease often have impairments in hippocampal function, researchers designed a task that tested participants’ relational memory abilities.

Participants were shown a circle divided into three parts, each having a unique design. Similar to the process of name-and-face binding, the hippocampus works to bind these three pieces of the circle together.

After the participants studied a circle, they would pick its exact match from a series of 10 circles, presented one at a time.

People with very mild Alzheimer’s disease did worse overall on the task than those in the healthy aging group, who, in turn, did worse than a group of young adults.

The task also revealed an additional memory impairment unique to those with very mild Alzheimer’s disease, indicating the changes in cognition that result from Alzheimer’s are qualitatively different than healthy aging.

“This unique impairment allows researchers to statistically differentiate between those who did and those who did not have Alzheimer’s more accurately than some of the classical tests used for Alzheimer’s diagnosis,” Monti said.

“That was illuminating and will serve to inform future work aimed at understanding and detecting the earliest cognitive manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease,” Monti said.

“Although this new tool could eventually be used in clinical practice, more studies need to be done to refine the test,” he said.

“We’d like to eventually study populations with fewer impairments and bring in neuroimaging techniques to better understand the initial changes in brain and cognition that are due to Alzheimer’s disease,” Monti said.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Abstract of brain photo by shutterstock.

New Test Differentiates Alzheimer’s, Normal Aging

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). New Test Differentiates Alzheimer’s, Normal Aging. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 May 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.