Every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia, most commonly in the form of Alzheimer's disease. With an ever-aging world population, that figure is only going to become higher over the coming decades. That’s why scientists at the University of Birmingham, UK, have been working hard to find ways to diagnose and predict this progressive condition.
They discovered that struggling to read simple words could be an early sign that a person is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Although it's early days for the research, they believe the study could be used to develop a low-cost and non-invasive method to predict the onset of Alzheimer's disease as early as possible.
"A prominent feature of Alzheimer's is a progressive decline in language, however, the ability to process language in the period between the appearance of initial symptoms of Alzheimer's to its full development has scarcely previously been investigated,” Dr Ali Mazaheri, of the University of Birmingham, said in a statement.
"We wanted to investigate if there were anomalies in brain activity during language processing in MCI patients which could provide insight into their likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. We focused on language functioning, since it is a crucial aspect of cognition and particularly impacted during the progressive stages of Alzheimer's."
As explained in a new study published in Neuroimage Clinical, the researchers gathered 25 relatively healthy seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition found in 20 percent of people over 65, which often develops into Alzheimer’s. The experiment involved them completing a language comprehension task while hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG), a method that measures and records the electrical activity of your brain. Using their findings, they were able to predict which patients would go on to develop Alzheimer's disease within the next three years.
"Crucially, what we found in our study is that this brain response is aberrant in individuals who will go on in the future to develop Alzheimer's disease, but intact in patients who remained stable,” added co-author Dr Katrien Segaert.
"Our findings were unexpected as language is usually affected by Alzheimer's disease in much later stages of the onset of the disease.”
Now the authors hope their work will lead to further study in this particular area.
"It is possible that this breakdown of the brain network associated with language comprehension in MCI patients could be a crucial biomarker used to identify patients likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. We hope to now test the validity of this biomarker in large population of patients in the UK to see if it's a specific predictor of Alzheimer's disease, or a general marker for dementia involving the temporal lobe," Segaert said.