People With A Bad Sense Of Direction Prone To ‪Alzheimer's Disease? Getting Easily Lost Is A Warning Sign, Caution Researchers

People who routinely get lost or seem to have a very bad sense of direction may be susceptible to Alzheimer's disease. New research indicates those who seem unable to navigate unfamiliar surroundings may develop the degenerative disorder in the future.

New research seems to indicate people who keep getting lost or have a lot of difficulty navigating may be heading towards Alzheimer's disease. Researchers claim such symptoms can indicate the disease is lurking in the future. With some simple tests, people can confidently predict, almost 20 years in advance, if they will develop the disorder.

Having difficulty remembering how to get around in new surroundings could be an extremely early indicator of Alzheimer's, concluded a study that involved a rather small group of participants. If the findings do get corroborated in further research, doctors could easily diagnose Alzheimer's long before someone shows obvious memory problems, said researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, reported U.S. News.

The study consisted of 16 individuals, who were divided into three groups. The first group consisted of patients that showed symptoms of early stage Alzheimer's. The second group of participants consisted of people with preclinical Alzheimer's disease. These people's brains showed clear changes in the brain that are indicative of the neurodegenerative disease. The third group of people appeared normal but investigation of fluid from around their brain and spinal cord, called cerebrospinal fluid, showed marked changes which were typical in Alzheimer's disease. All these participants were tested against a control group of 42 healthy people who displayed no signs of the disease whatsoever.

The participants were then asked to navigate a maze and were judged on their ability to do so. All of the participants were either given 20 minutes to learn a preselected route or a choice of navigating the maze after exploring the same with a joystick. In other words, the participants were either given a map which they had to memorize or they had to decipher their way out by making a mental image of the same.

The maze had interconnecting hallways with four wallpaper patterns and 20 landmarks. The core intention behind the test was to see how well the participants could learn and follow the pre-set route and how well they could learn to create and use a mental map of the maze.

The group of participants had to either recreate their set route or find their way to landmarks within the maze, reported News. The researchers were quite amazed with the findings. They discovered the group with preclinical Alzheimer's disease didn't face much trouble memorizing a predetermined route. However, they struggled a lot to create a mental map of the maze. Nonetheless, this group eventually managed to get over the mental hurdle and successfully navigated through the maze just as well as the control group.
The group with early-stage Alzheimer's struggled through both the tasks and performed poorly, indicating the bad sense of direction could be an early warning sign, which might be easily overlooked. Incidentally, the findings match well with other research on early stage Alzheimer's patients. The researchers concluded that multiple aspects associated with navigation or the brain's inability to handle directions could be very subtle, but definitive indicators to detect the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease, reported UPI. Speaking about the research, study author Denise Head, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences Washington University, said the following.
"These findings suggest that navigational tasks designed to assess a [mental] mapping strategy could represent a powerful new tool for detecting the very earliest Alzheimer's disease-related changes in cognition."
Researchers, however, cautiously add that having difficulty finding your way around new neighborhoods shouldn't be taken as a sure indicator the person is destined to develop Alzheimer's disease in the future.

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