Scores on cognitive tests could offer early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease

Early detection is one of the most important aspects of treating Alzheimer's disease. By diagnosing the condition early, seniors can take proactive steps to slow cognitive decline or take advantage of memory care. This can often be difficult, however, because it's hard to tell what are early indicators of Alzheimer's and what are simply small lapses in memory. Researchers from Johns Hopkins believe they have found a potential method to weed out the confusion.

To accurately predict whether seniors move from mild cognitive impairment to dementia, researchers relied on scores from cognitive tests performed by more than 550 people between 1996 and 2004 - approximately 540 of whom had some form of cognitive problems at the beginning of the tests. The assessments measured tasks such as memory, language, attention and processing speed. scientists noticed that Alzheimer's tended to affect the scores related to some functions earlier than others. This is important, because it may give doctors the opportunity to diagnose the disease before more severe symptoms take hold.

"If we are going to have any hope of helping patients with Alzheimer's disease, we need to do it as early as possible," said study leader Dr. David J. Schretlen. "Once the brain deteriorates, there's no coming back."

While the findings, which were published recently in the journal Neuropsychology, might represent a significant step forward in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's, challenges still exist. Most significantly, older adults are not routinely screened for cognitive decline, experts say. As a remedy, Schretlen recommended adults 55 and older should get screened once every five years whether they are experiencing symptoms or not.