Long-term memory tests – rather than current short-term testing – could help catch dementia early, suggests a new study.
Researchers say that if cases are diagnosed earlier, patients may benefit from early interventions.
The results suggest that testing memory over a long time-scale reveals early signs of the disease.
But currently, checks only focus on short-term forgetfulness, when it comes to the Alzheimer’s.
And the type of memory loss revealed by long-term tests could even by reversed by the development of new treatments.
Around 850,000 people currently suffer from dementia in the UK.
The study, published in Nature Communications, involved two groups of mice.
One group were healthy and the other group had the equivalent of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh taught the mice to find a hidden platform in a pool filled with water.
The mice used signs on the wall to navigate.
Shortly afterwards, both mice were successful in remembering how to get to the platform.
But when the researchers tested both groups a week later, the mice with Alzheimer’s struggled to remember the route.
Both groups of mice displayed normal brain activity when no task was involved, but the brain activity in the Alzheimer’s group was significantly lower when they tried to recall the route to the platform.
The new findings suggest short-term memory tests, currently used to diagnose Alzheimer’s, may not reveal the true extent of memory loss.
Professor Richard Morris, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “We recognise that tests with animals must be interpreted with caution, but the use of these genetic models in conjunction with appropriate testing is pointing at an important dimension of early diagnosis.”
Dr Vassilios Beglopoulos, also from the University of Edinburgh, said: “It is widely acknowledged that earlier intervention is needed to effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease, and better diagnostic tools are needed for that.
“We believe that our approach could make a significant contribution.”