Definitely one of the most horrifying illnesses anyone can go through, Alzheimer’s is usually not only a death sentence but also a condemnation to slowly but surely forget everything you’ve learned throughout your life. It forces your loved ones to watch you shrivel away and forget them just as they are doing their best to take care of you.
And despite all the truly amazing progress we’ve made in medicine, there really isn’t all that much development in the field of Alzheimer’s. This is because the disease is only a form of dementia, a condition affecting tens of millions of people in different ways. Even Alzheimer itself has different ways of messing with your mind.
One of the biggest problems in Alzheimer’s research is the lack of fully accurate testing methods for the disease. Even if researchers are mostly sure of how to identify the disease once it reaches a certain level, before that there is no way of seeing whether somebody is suffering from the condition or not.
The idea is that the indicator that somebody is suffering from the disease comes in the form of amyloid plaques which attach themselves to brain tissue. These plaques can be detected by extracting cerebral or spinal fluid, but only after a certain amount of them has already accumulated there.
But finally, after a very long time of researchers attempting to come up with answers related to the disease, scientists might have come up with a test for Alzheimer’s. The test involves being able to make a mental map, as Alzheimer’s patients have been known for a while to have trouble memorizing directions.
For the test, the researchers looked a sample of 71 subjects and had them participate in an exercise involving navigating a computer-generated maze. 42 of the participants were perfectly healthy, 16 of them presented symptoms of preclinical Alzheimer’s, and the remaining 13 had no symptoms but had enough amyloid plaque build-up in their cerebrospinal fluid that it showed up on tests.
The exercise was meant to test two different skills – how the participants handled learning and following a predetermined route and how well they could create and use a mental map. They did so by navigating a virtual maze that was particularly designed for this specific purpose
Consisting of a series of interconnected hallways with four different wallpapers and twenty landmarks, the virtual maze turned out to be a very useful and promising tool of testing whether a patient will soon suffer from Alzheimer’s. The result were far better than the team expected them to be.
The group with no symptoms and no biomarkers did great at both tasks, while both groups with amyloid plaque accumulations had issues with learning the map. However, the groups with no symptoms but with accumulations in their brains quickly managed to get over their initial difficulties and memorized the map in their second try.
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