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Difficulty learning new things may be one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. And millions of people are going to get it, even though not everyone will hear the diagnosis. There are, however, some therapies that can slow down the progression of this neurodegenerative condition, but it has to be spotted early. Now scientists at the Monash University found that one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s could be difficulty learning.

Older people who find it difficult to learn new information are much more likely to hear Alzheimer’s diagnosis in the future. Image credit: Quince Media via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but why not? People are curious and they love learning new things at all ages. However, some older people may notice that for them it is difficult to learn new information – much more so than it used to be. Scientists suspect that it may be one of the earliest possible signs of the disease. They conducted a research and found that cognitively normal people who tested positive for the Aβ brain amyloid associated with Alzheimer’s disease, showed a reduced ability to learn new information over a six-day period compared to their amyloid-negative peers.

Scientists tested 80 cognitively normal adults over the age of 60. 38 participants of this study were amyloid-positive and 42 were amyloid-negative. This study employed a new technique called the Online Repeated Cognitive Assessment – it essentially tasked participants to learn associations between 50 Chinese characters and their English language equivalents over the course of six days. Scientists found that people who were amyloid-positive found it much more difficult to complete this task. In other words, it was very difficult for them to learn this new information. Scientists suspect that reduced ability to learn may be associated with early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of dementia. It is estimated that around 70 % of people who are suffering from age-related dementia have Azlheimer’s. Major symptoms of this neurodegenerative disorder are memory loss and reduced cognitive ability. They are caused by the accumulation of Aβ amyloid protein in the brain. Amyloidal plaques disturb the connections between neurons making the human brain extremely inefficient. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time. Various treatment methods that are emerging can slow down that progression, but there is no cure at the moment.

Hopefully, studies like this can put us closer to some better treatment options. It is unlikely that we will ever find a way to treat this terrible neurodegenerative condition. However, because Western society is aging so quickly, it is important to at least take some pain off of the people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. This is why discovering those early signs of the oncoming disease is so important.

 

Source: Monash University


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