Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Test improves Alzheimer diagnosis

Hand
There are about 275,000 undiagnosed cases of Alzheimer's in the UK

A multi-tasking test can help avoid confusion between symptoms of depression and early Alzheimer's, Edinburgh researchers have discovered.

People developing Alzheimer's suffer from impaired reasoning and memory, which can be mistaken for depression.

As a result often patients with the dementia illness are misdiagnosed and fail to receive early treatment.

One way to tell the conditions apart is to ask patients to perform two mental tasks at the same time, experts found.

A team led by Professor Sergio Della Sala, from Edinburgh University, compared the "dual-tasking" ability of 89 Alzheimer's patients, sufferers of chronic depression and healthy elderly individuals with no memory impairment.

Currently, up to two thirds of people with dementia never receive a formal diagnosis and it is often misdiagnosed as depression
Dr Susanne Sorensen
Alzheimer's Society

The findings, reported in the Journal of Neurology, showed that people with Alzheimer's performed significantly worse than the other two groups.

This was true even when allowances were made for individual memory differences.

Around 700,000 people in the UK have dementia, and more than half suffer from Alzheimer's.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, which funded the study, said: "This is the first piece of research to compare the performance of dual tasks in Alzheimer's disease and depression and could mean that people with dementia are diagnosed earlier.

"Currently, up to two thirds of people with dementia never receive a formal diagnosis and it is often misdiagnosed as depression.

"Della Salla's team aims to develop a simple screening test that will help GPs discriminate Alzheimer's from normal ageing and depression.

"An early diagnosis is hugely important as it may enable people with dementia to understand their condition, have access to certain drugs that could help relieve some of their symptoms and enable them to plan for their future long-term care needs."



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