Memory Tests Indicate Alzheimer's 18 Years Before It Appears

July 2, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Errors on brief memory tests can detect Alzheimer's disease up to 18 years before dementia onset.

Errors on brief memory tests can detect Alzheimer’s disease up to 18 years before dementia onset.

Using these cognitive tests, pharmacists could play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s progression, Kumar Bharat Rajan, PhD, of the Rush University Medical Center, told Pharmacy Times.

“Pharmacists might help slow this process by providing fun, cognitive activities such as puzzles (and) crosswords to middle-age and older adults with additional information on preventive factors that can slow cognitive decline,” he said.

Such early engagement in cognitive activities could potentially slow down the progression of preclinical symptoms to diagnosed Alzheimer’s dementia, he added.

For a recent study published in the American Academy of Neurology, Dr. Rajan and colleagues examined 2125 African-American and European-American patients aged 65 years or older from 4 Chicago neighborhoods.

After employing brief assessments of episodic memory, executive function, and global recognition every 3 years for 18 years, the researchers discovered a link between lower test scores and development of Alzheimer’s dementia over the course of the study.

Within the first year of follow-up, participants with low cognitive test scores were nearly 10% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Around the 13- to 17.9-year mark, the odds ratio was about 3.4%.

Of the whole cohort, 442 participants (21%) developed clinical Alzheimer’s dementia over 18 years of follow-up. The incidence of Alzheimer’s was higher among African-Americans (23%) than European-Americans (17%) in the study, and the average age of dementia diagnosis was around 83 years.

“Our findings suggest that cognitive impairment may manifest in the preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s disease dementia substantially earlier than previously established,” the researchers concluded.