Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 16:59 UK

Dementia patients' memory probed

Alzheimer's cell
Alzheimer's may not affect knowledge as early as previously thought

People with dementia may remember more than it first appears, according to researchers in Dundee and Fife.

They believe knowledge may not be destroyed in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease until later than previously thought.

The academics concluded that often patients would be able to recall facts, but became confused by the way the questions were asked.

The research was carried out by Dundee, Abertay and St Andrews universities.

The researchers asked patients to define simple words, such as "monkey", "salmon" or "tractor".

Professor Trevor Harley, from Dundee University, explained: "People with dementia are notoriously bad at this sort of task: at first sight it looks like they've lost most of the detailed knowledge of the word. For example, the only thing they appear to know about a monkey might just be that it's an animal.

As dementia progresses communication often becomes more difficult but this does not necessarily mean that a person's understanding has diminished
Clive Evers
Alzheimer's Society

"The assumption has been that Alzheimer's disease causes this knowledge to be destroyed.

"However, we found that if you probe the patient in the right way with appropriate questions that support them to search their stored knowledge, they can often generate more detailed information.

"That is, the knowledge isn't always lost at all. Of course eventually the information might be completely lost, but this might happen much later than people have previously thought."

Clive Evers from the Alzheimer's Society welcomed the findings.

He said: "As dementia progresses communication often becomes more difficult but this does not necessarily mean that a person's understanding has diminished.

"It's important to communicate with people with dementia in ways that make it easy for people with dementia to respond. This includes using short sentences, clear language and providing people with the opportunity to respond non-verbally as well.

"This research is also a timely reminder of the importance of presuming people with dementia have mental capacity unless it can be proven otherwise."


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