Familiar symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and dementia include memory loss; inability to follow or continue with a conversation; a decline in exercising good judgment; confusion as to what day, month, season, or year it is; and social withdrawal. But a recent study points to a warning sign that precedes all these symptoms, to the surprise of many.
According to research published in the journal of Alzheimer's disease, navigational issues may crop up before memory loss, and well before a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's is made. Participants in the study were asked to navigate a virtual maze on a computer, using various patterns and landmarks to find their way around. The study consisted of a control group of healthy subjects and a group who had preclinical alzheimer's - they had a few markers but weren't clinically diagnosed.
The preclinical Alzheimer's test subject had far greater difficulty assessing, mapping, and navigating their virtual environment than the healthy subject, indicating a cognitive gap that may have previously gone unnoticed but is a sign of disease-related change.
The findings point to navigational tasks possibly being a potent tool for detecting Alzheimer's disease at its very earliest stages. This would enable patients to receive earlier medical interventions and support services to deal with later Alzheimer's-related changes, and to plan for the future and make their wishes known before the disease makes it more difficult to do so.