To detect the early, subtle signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which may lead to forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, there is a need for a standardized test that can alert physicians to a possible cognitive decline. Last week, research from the
Cognigram has been developed by
To evaluate the functional health of a human brain, physicians need to observe performance on several key domains. To assess the state of sub cortical brain regions including the basal ganglia as well as cortical regions such as the prefrontal and parietal cortices, tests of attention and reaction time are used. Learning and working memory depend on normal functioning of the hippocampus and temporal lobe (for pattern separation) and prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate (for working memory).
By grouping these two domains, attention/reaction and learning/memory, into composite scores, the research team, led by Paul Maruff PhD, Chief Science Officer of
"The presence of a relatively greater impairment in cognitive functions dependent on cortical and limbic brain regions (i.e., learning and working memory) with relatively subtle impairment in motor and attention functions is consistent with neuropsychological models of AD which emphasize that cognitive impairment characteristic of both prodromal and clinically classified AD is disruption to memory and executive function," said Dr Maruff.
To test this, they recruited volunteers from the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) Study, dividing them into three groups; 653 healthy adults, 107 with amnesic MCI (where the primary symptom is memory loss), and 44 with AD. They were all asked to complete the four tests of the
All of the
For the learning/working memory composite, two additional tests were used. The One Card Learning task asks, "Have you seen this card before in this task?" To test immediate recall, the One Back test asks if the card displayed is the same as the immediately prior card.
As hypothesized by the research team, the results showed that both the MCI and the AD groups performed significantly worse on both composites than the healthy adults. Also, the AD group's learning/memory score was significantly lower than the MCI group, demonstrating the presence and progression of the memory decline caused by the disease.
To be a reliable diagnostic tool for physicians, the test battery needs to be able to show consistent results over time. The Cognigram testing was repeated four times in three months and showed statistically similar results across all groups.
The full study can be accessed online at BMC Psychology.
"We are excited about the results of this study," said Maruff. "The
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