A scientific study revealed that people with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty turning when walking, and that this symptom may help diagnose the disease early.
Experts from University College London (UCL) have used virtual reality to help screen for navigational errors among people showing the first signs of the disease, in the hope of developing simple tests for the condition.
The small study, published in the journal Current Biology, compared 31 healthy young people, 36 healthy elderly people, and 43 patients with mild cognitive impairment. The three groups were asked to complete a task while wearing virtual reality glasses, which allowed them to perform real-life movements.
Participants walked along a route guided by numbered cones, consisting of two straight paths connected by a curve. They then had to return to the starting position guided by their memory alone. The task was performed repeatedly under three different conditions. The study found that those with early Alzheimer’s consistently overestimated turns in the road, and had greater variability in their sense of direction.
Dr Andrea Castenaro, from University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said there is already evidence that navigation problems are an important early sign of Alzheimer’s.
He continued: “What we have added here is that there are specific aspects of navigation in Alzheimer’s disease that are particularly disrupted. “In particular, we found that individuals with early disease consistently overestimated turns on a given route and showed increased variability in their sense of direction.” He added: “It is important to say that these are preliminary results and we are working to confirm them.”
Dr. Castenaro explained: “Our findings offer a new means of early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by focusing on specific navigational errors.
We aim to develop practical tests that can be easily integrated into clinical settings, taking into account common constraints such as limited space and time,” according to what the “Russia Today” website quoted from the British newspaper “The Independent”.