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Visual Test to Distinguish Alzheimer’s from Aging

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​Have you ever wondered, "Is this just normal forgetfulness because I'm getting older, or is it Alzheimer's?" Because many early symptoms of dementia mirror those of normal aging, it can often be difficult for doctors to differentiate the two. This makes early diagnosis and treatment difficult. A new study is hoping to change that.

It's known that those with Alzheimer's disease have a difficult time connecting pieces of related information. They may not be able to connect a name to a face, a word to an image, or a time to a place.

The function of linking information stored in different parts of the brain is done in the area of the brain called the hippocampus. Because of this common cognitive issue among those with Alzheimer's, researchers have developed a test around hippocampal function.

Study participants were given a circle divided into three parts, each having a unique design. The hippocampus works to link these three pieces of the circle together. Once the participants studied a circle, they were instructed to pick its exact match from a series of 10 circles, presented one at a time.

The participants with very mild Alzheimer's disease were less successful at the the task than those in the healthy aging group, who, in turn, did worse than the young adult group.

The study also discovered an additional memory impairment unique to those with very mild Alzheimer's disease. The impairment indicated changes in cognition that result from Alzheimer's are measurably different than those in healthy aging. This distinctive impairment allows researchers to distinguish between those who do and those who do not have Alzheimer's more accurately than some of the classical tests used for Alzheimer's diagnosis.

While this test isn't ready for everyday clinical use, researchers are hopeful this tool will eventually help doctors provide earlier and more accurate diagnosis and treatment plans.

If you find yourself worried about whether your memory lapses are normal or a sign of dementia, see your doctor and explain your concerns.

For more information about Alzheimer's and support for families living with the disease, visit



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