Memory problems have many causes, such as stress or depression, but they can also be an early sign of dementia.
In a new thesis from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet, scientists show that a neuropsychological memory test can predict the risk of dementia developing within three years.
The test is useful for analysing learning abilities and memory. The patients who pass the test run a very low risk of developing dementia in the forthcoming three years. Those who perform below a certain threshold run a serious risk, even though other cognitive functions – language skills, mental agility, and the ability to perceive pattern, shape and position – might be normal. However, it is difficult to distinguish between high and low-risk patients when dealing with people with slightly impaired memories. In such cases, protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid can help to sort out which ones are in the risk-zone.
The thesis also shows that concentrations of a certain protein in the cerebrospinal fluid rise in direct proportion to the deterioration of cognitive functions in people who develop Alzheimer’s disease. The study is the first in the world to reveal this correlation, which can help scientists to understand the mechanisms behind Alzheimer’s disease. The study is a response to people’s generally increasing memory concerns and was designed to produce a method that would enable doctors and psychologists to distinguish between treatable memory problems and nascent dementia.
Thesis: “Predictors of cognitive decline in memory clinic patients”, Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet.