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New test detects Alzheimer’s seven years before symptoms

UCL researchers have developed a memory test that can detect Alzheimer’s seven years before symptoms appear.

Usual tests looking at memory formation are unable to identify Alzheimer’s early on, however the new test is able to identify potential Alzheimer’s sufferers by detecting memory deficit. The new assessment is a 30-minute memory recall test, which allows for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease to be predicted years ahead of symptoms. Patients are asked to recall what they remembered after 30 minutes and then again after 7 days. Those who were closest to the expected onset of symptoms could remember things after 30 minutes, but then had forgotten them after a week.

The study strengthens scientific understanding of how memory losses begin, with long-term forgetting starting quite early in the disease course. Early testing could help identify individuals for clinical trials, as well as helping to monitor whether treatment is needed.

The results of the test show a correlation between long-term forgetting and subjective memory complaints, which could be used as the earliest indicator in detecting cognitive issues leading to Alzheimer’s.

Dr Philip Weston, first author of the paper, from UCL Dementia Research Centre, said: "The study would appear to significantly advance our knowledge of the earliest cognitive changes in Alzheimer's, and offers a new useful approach to testing people both in drug trials and in the clinic."

The study, partly funded by the NIHR, was carried out in individuals who carry the mutation for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, but have not shown any symptoms based on standard cognitive tests.

Researchers are hopeful that their findings will also be relevant to later-onset (sporadic) Alzheimer’s disease, as the progression of disease is understood to be very similar. 

To read the full journal please visit The Lancet Neurology.