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Visual Memory Tests Identify Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

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17 December 2018
CHeBA News: Visual Memory Tests Identify Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

Research outcomes from an international consortium led by the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), UNSW Sydney, have indicated that elderly people with suspected Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) should be tested with both verbal and visual memory tests to better identify those at greatest risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in October in International Psychogeriatrics, Cambridge University Press, assessed 4,771 elderly participants across five community-based studies, each a member of the international COSMIC consortium and from different countries. All participants were classified as having normal cognition or MCI involving impairments in verbal memory, visual memory, or both, using international criteria and followed for an average of 2.48 years.

MCI can be an intermediate condition between normal cognitive ageing and Alzheimer’s disease. MCI often causes memory impairments, which are usually assessed with tests of verbal memory that require someone to remember words from a list they are read. However, some people with MCI may perform well on verbal memory tests but not so well on tests of visual memory, such as remembering what shapes were shown to them on a card.

“Visual memory tests are not used in the clinic as often as verbal memory tests, which can mean visual memory impairments are not detected and someone with these misdiagnosed as not having MCI,” said Dr Darren Lipnicki, Study Co-ordinator of COSMIC (Cohort Studies of Memory in an International Consortium).

Fellow CHeBA researchers involved in the study included Co-Directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev, Dr Nicole Kochan and Dr John Crawford.

“Our study found that people identified as having MCI involving visual memory impairments were as likely as those with MCI involving verbal memory impairments to later develop Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Lipnicki.

“The results highlight the importance of including both verbal and visual memory tests in neuropsychological assessments to more reliably identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” said CHeBA Co-Director Professor Perminder Sachdev.

Established in 2012, COSMIC is one of four international consortia led by CHeBA to investigate risk and protective factors for dementia incidence and healthy brain ageing world-wide. Support for the consortia’s research is driven by CHeBA’s major philanthropic initiative, The Dementia Momentum.