Problems with navigation may be one of the earliest signs of an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease according to Washington University in St. Louis researchers. The results of the research study have been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, and medical professionals could have the ability to detect this condition before any clinical signs are noticed. Individuals who had difficulty when they were trying to negotiate a computer generated maze were at the highest risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in, because problems with spatial navigation may be one of the earliest warning signs of this condition.
Senior study author and Washington University in St. Louis researcher Denise Head discussed the study findings on Alzheimer’s disease and problems with navigation, saying “These findings suggest that navigational tasks designed to assess a cognitive mapping strategy could represent a powerful new tool for detecting the very earliest Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in cognition. The spatial navigation task used in this study to assess cognitive map skills was more sensitive at detecting preclinical Alzheimer’s disease than the standard psychometric task of episodic memory. People with cerebrospinal markers for preclinical Alzheimer’s disease demonstrated significant difficulties only when they had to form a cognitive map of the environment — an allocentric, place-learning navigation process associated with hippocampal function. This same preclinical Alzheimer’s disease group showed little or no impairment on route learning tasks — an egocentric navigation process more closely associated with caudate function.” Samantha Allison, the first author of the study, also weighed in on the findings. “Our observations suggest a progression such that preclinical Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by hippocampal atrophy and associated cognitive mapping difficulties, particularly during the learning phase. As the disease progresses, cognitive mapping deficits worsen (memory), the caudate becomes involved (learning and movement), and route learning deficits emerge.”