Memory offers new clues to onset of dementia

Forgetting the first words on a list could be an early predictor of dementia, according to a study by psychologists in the UK and US.

When asked to repeat a list of 10 words, people who forgot one or more of the first three words were more likely to go on to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, an incurable form of dementia.

“These are people who are testing negative in all other forms of dementia testing, so it is a significant result,” explained Dr Davide Bruno, a reader in psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.

The study is published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

Dr Bruno and collaborators at Rush University, Chicago, analysed autopsy data from 1096 individuals and correlated the brain measures with their memory ten years before, when they were alive and had no signs of dementia. They had all been signed up to a series of studies whereby their memory was tested frequently.

They all completed a standard memory test where they had to recite back 10 words after a single hearing.

What they found was those whose post-mortem brains displayed pathologies associated with Alzheimer’s had been significantly more likely to have forgotten one of the first three words in their memory test.

“We concluded that those individuals had demonstrated 11% less memory on the index about 10 years prior to death.”

“In other words, when they have poor memory for certain specific words (but not others) they have increased risk of pathology.”

This study provides further evidence that good memory for the beginning of a story, also known as the primacy effect, is a sign that we are able to consolidate and strengthen information, suggesting that our memory centres in the brain are possibly unaffected by AD-related brain pathology.


- The article - Delayed primacy recall performance predicts post mortem Alzheimer's disease pathology from unimpaired ante mortem cognitive baseline is authored by

Davide Bruno, Kristina M. Gicas, Ainara Jauregi-Zinkunegi, Kimberly D. Mueller and Melissa Lamar.


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