Declining Visuospatial Skills May Indicate Early Alzheimer's Pathology

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

According to a study published this month in Archives of Neurology, declining visuospatial skills may be one of the earliest cognitive indicators of emerging Alzheimer's disease. If confirmed, this could alter the current perspective that short-term memory is the earliest cognitive realm to show impairment.

In the study, conducted at the University of Kansas, 444 dementia-free subjects were enrolled and followed with a battery of neuropsychological assessments for an average of 5.9 years. During the course of the study, 134 subjects became demented and the cause of dementia was confirmed as Alzheimer's disease in 44 of them.

By looking at the performance of each subject across the battery of assessments, researchers were able to identify which realms of cognition declined earliest in those subjects who eventually suffered from dementia. The results suggested that multiple domains, including attention, executive function, episodic memory, and surprisingly, visuospatial skills may all play roles in indicating early stage cognitive decline.

This finding may shift the current emphasis from episodic memory to a broader set of domains, including visuospatial skills, in the ongoing effort to develop better assessments for detecting the onset of dementing disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

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