12/04/2017 10:33 BST

This Simple Test Could Reveal Your Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease In Later Life

Can you spot the difference?

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Taking a simple test could be an indictor for how likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future, a new study suggests.

Researchers have developed unique graphic characters, called Greebles, they say may prove to be valuable tools in detecting signs of Alzheimer’s disease decades before symptoms become apparent.

In order to test your risk of the form of dementia, simply look at the four Greebles in the graphic below and try to spot the odd one out.

If you find it difficult to see the odd one, it could mean you’re at higher risk of developing the condition than others. 

Which is the odd Greeble? Scroll down to see the answer.

Michael J Tarr Centre for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Department of Psychology Carnegie Mellon University

Researcher Emily Mason, of the University of Louisville (UofL), found people who have a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease have more difficulty distinguishing among Greebles than individuals without a genetic predisposition.

During her PhD at Vanderbilt University, Mason split volunteers between the ages of age 40-60 into two groups: those who were considered at-risk of Alzheimer’s due to having at least one biological parent diagnosed with the disease and those with no immediate family history of Alzheimer’s. 

The volunteers completed a series of “odd one out” tasks in which they were shown sets of four images depicting real-world objects, human faces, scenes and Greebles in which one image was slightly different than the other three.

They were asked to identify the image that was different.

Both groups performed at similar levels for the objects, faces and scenes. For the Greebles, however, the at-risk group scored lower in their ability to identify differences in the images.

Individuals in the at-risk group correctly identified the distinct Greeble 78% of the time, whereas the group without a family history of Alzheimer’s correctly identified the odd Greeble 87% of the time.

ANSWER: In the example given above, image four is the odd Greeble as its horns and arm are subtly shaped differently to the others.

Mason is hopeful that Greebles could be used to detect risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the future, enabling scientists to develop new treatments for those in need before symptoms take hold. 

“Right now, by the time we can detect the disease, it would be very difficult to restore function because so much damage has been done to the brain,” she said.

“We want to be able to look at really early, really subtle changes that are going on in the brain. One way we can do that is with cognitive testing that is directed at a very specific area of the brain.”

Mason has called for further research to determine whether the individuals who performed poorly on the test actually developed Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

“The best thing we could do is have people take this test in their 40s and 50s, and track them for the next 10 or 20 years to see who eventually develops the disease and who doesn’t,” she said.

Brandon Ally, assistant professor of neurological surgery at UofL and senior author of the publication, said the tests with Greebles can provide a cost-effective way to identify individuals who may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, as well as a tool for following those individuals over time.

“We are not proposing that the identification of novel objects such as Greebles is a definitive marker of the disease, but when paired with some of the novel biomarkers and a solid clinical history, it may improve our diagnostic acumen in early high-risk individuals,” Ally said.

“As prevention methods, vaccines or disease modifying drugs become available, markers like novel object detection may help to identify the high priority candidates.”

Professor Robert P. Friedland, who has studied clinical and biological issues in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders for 35 years, believes early detection will enhance the ability of patients and physicians to employ lifestyle and therapeutic interventions.

“This work shows that the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on cognition can be measured decades before the onset of dementia,” he said. 

“The fact that the disease takes so long to develop provides us with an opportunity to slow its progression through attention to the many factors that are linked to the disease, such as a sedentary lifestyle, a high fat diet, obesity, head injury, smoking, and a lack of mental and social engagement.”

The research is published in full in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 

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