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Study links trouble with sense of direction to early Alzheimer's

Did you know symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can appear twenty years before the disease can be clinically diagnosed? One of those symptoms, which seems benignant and might be commonly ignored, is getting lost, according to new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The study included sixteen people with symptoms of early stage Alzheimer's and thirteen outwardly normal people with signs of preclinical Alzheimer's in fluid from around their brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). A control group of 42 healthy people without the cerebrospinal markers was also involved.

The participants were tested on their ability to remember how to navigate a virtual maze on a computer with a series of interconnected hallways with 4 wallpaper patterns and 20 landmarks. Two specific skills were evaluated: how well the participants could learn and follow a pre-set route, and how well they could create and use a mental map of the maze.

According to the researchers, the group with preclinical Alzheimer's had little or no trouble learning the pre-set route, but had problems in creating a mental map of the maze.

In due course, the participants with preclinical Alzheimer's eventually overcame this map-learning deficit, and performed nearly as well as the control group in later testing.

The researchers said the presence of cerebrospinal fluid markers for Alzheimer's disease does not mean that a person is destined to develop the disease nor does difficulty finding your way around new neighborhoods.