A memory stress test could make it easier to predict who has greater chances of developing dementia.
Researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), with the Brain and Ageing Research Program, University of New South Wales, have shown how the brain’s response to increasing mental stress can predict cognitive decline.
“Accurate detection of those at risk before they show clinical signs of dementia would allow for early, targeted preventive interventions,” said Michael Breakspear, professor and coordinator of QIMR’s Mental Health and Complex Disorders programme, who led the study.
Some of dementia symptoms are forgetting names, appointments and losing things, difficulty in driving, cooking a meal, household chores, managing personal finances, becoming quiet and withdrawn, according to a Queensland statement.
Breakspear studied people aged between 70 and 85 years with mild cognitive impairment, a known risk factor for dementia.
They were given a series of memory tasks of increasing difficulty and their brain activity was monitored. For instance, think of a heart stress test but instead of running on a treadmill we make you think to the point of mental exhaustion and measure your brain activity.
“By using a brain imaging scanner, we were able to detect subtle changes in brain activity. We studied the patients again after two years and found that their initial response to the stress test predicted whether their everyday functioning was stable or declined.
“What is also interesting is we found that the level of accuracy when the brain is under stress is also a good indicator of future mental decline,” concluded Breakspear.