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Can scientists detect dementia before it’s too late?

As we grow older the risk of developing debilitating conditions increases. As a result, staying healthy becomes more and more of a pressing concern for older adults. The truth is that the body doesn’t work as well as it used to and some of our functions may potentially fail as we age. Thankfully, scientists and researchers are always looking into how to treat and detect these situations before they arise.

Take dementia for instance. There are several causes of this degenerative disorder, including neurological diseases, vascular disorders, brain injuries, and more. However, there is one commonality that patients with these diseases share – their age. Approximately 5 percent to 8 percent of adults over 65 have some form of dementia. Even worse, that risk doubles every five years after people reach the age of 65.

One important aspect of treating this disease is detecting it early. Researchers have found a new way to determine if patients are affected by the disease.

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia comes in two different forms. The first is cortical dementias, which usually shows up in the form of Alzheimer’s or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This form of dementia can cause server memory loss, cognitive issues and may impair your ability to remember words.

The second form of dementia is subcortical. The diseases that are most commonly associated with this are Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and HIV. Patients with these diseases are very likely to difficulty thinking quickly or starting a task.

Detecting the Disorder

The hard part about detecting dementia is that these changes may not appear at first or can develop slowly over time. This can lead to some people not detecting signs of the disorder until it is too late. The biggest indicator of the condition in its early stages is memory and thinking problems. Now, scientists at the Baycrest-University of Memphis are saying that hearing and communication issues are a sign as well.

The brainstem and the auditory cortex are the regions of the brain known to process speech. Once thought to resistant to dementia’s effects, the region has shown trouble processing speech from sound to words. In order to look more into this change, researchers used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the brain’s electrical activity in the brainstem and auditory cortex. With 80 percent accuracy, they were able to predict mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that can develop into Alzheimer’s.

“This opens a new door in identifying biological markers for dementia since we might consider using the brain’s processing of speech sounds as a new way to detect the disease earlier,” says Dr. Claude Alain, the study’s senior author and senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and professor at the University of Toronto’s psychology department.

Dr. Alain continues, stating that “Losing the ability to communicate is devastating and this finding could lead to the development of targeted treatments or interventions to maintain this capability and slow progression of the disease.”

There is no cure for dementia but with continued study, scientists can find new and innovative ways to help people with the disease live normally.