Early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease indicators include behavioral changes and poor balance – in addition to memory loss. Although forgetfulness is a common sign of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows changes in behavior may be the first red flag signaling the onset of mental deterioration. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis is usually based on mild cognitive impairment, but researchers are now focusing on mild behavioral impairment as an early indication of the disease.
Changes in behavior signaling Alzheimer’s disease include social withdrawal, angry outbursts, anxiety, and obsessiveness.
Researcher Dr. Zahinoor Ismail said, “We’re not talking about a blip in someone’s behavior. It’s a sustained change from their former ways of functioning. That out-of-character behavior can be the first sign of something going wrong in the brain.”
Dr. Ismail and colleagues developed a symptom checklist for doctors to use in their assessment of elderly patients for mild behavioral impairment. Although additional research is required to validate the checklist’s usefulness, the scientists hope it could be widely used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stage.
Alzheimer’s disease is largely a brain disorder, but it spans beyond a simple memory decline. The concept of mild behavioral impairment being a precursor to dementia is novel, though it is difficult to measure, Dr. Ismail shared.
Although the checklist still needs to be tested in clinical studies, it may prove to be a useful tool in diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Along with mild behavioral impairment, poor balance may also be an early warning sign of dementia. Previous studies have found that poor physical function is tied to a higher risk of dementia in people under the age of 85, but whether this applies to those over 90 has been previously unknown.
The researchers looked at 578 people over the age of 90. Every six months, the researchers performed physical and neurological exams. At the start of the study, 50 percent of the participants were cognitively impaired but did not have dementia. Over the 2.6-year follow-up period, 40 percent of the participants developed dementia.
The researchers highlighted a unique link between the risk of dementia and physical performance based on a balance and walking test. The researchers believe, if doctors were to test physical function in older adults they could uncover early warning signs of dementia. Additional research is required to develop preventative methods based on physical function improvement.
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