Changes to semantic memory could be early sign of Alzheimer's

Early detection is one of the biggest keys to treating Alzheimer's disease. Recognizing the early symptoms can give family members of seniors the chance to address the condition as soon as possible, which can translate into better memory care and more chances for independent living. Recent research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that some simple tests may be able to identify Alzheimer's earlier than ever before.

The study was led by scientists from the Litwin-Zucker Center for Research in Alzheimer's Disease, and assessed how participants processed semantic and knowledge-based information. The subjects included adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease as well as some who were cognitively normal. Researchers found that the cognitively healthy group was much better at processing semantic information, such as comparing the sizes of two objects, than both the MCI and Alzheimer's groups.

"It tells us that something is slowing down the patient and it is not episodic memory but semantic memory," said Terry Goldberg, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

Alzheimer's remains one of the biggest health concerns for seniors. Around 5.4 million Americans are currently battling the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association, but the figure could increase as the population ages.