Researchers found that certain behavioral changes could be the first signs pointing to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In light of the discovery, they came up with a symptom “checklist” that might help physicians make an earlier diagnosis.
For a long time, experts focused on mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as one of the earliest signs that a patient was going to battle Alzheimer’s. This diagnose involves trouble remembering and thinking problems that may or may not turn into full-blown dementia.
However, some researchers are now focusing on a new concept dubbed as “mild behavioral impairment.” The term describes the persistent changes that alter the normal behavior of an older person, such as angry outbursts, social withdrawal, obsessiveness, and anxiety.
Study author Dr. Zahinoor Ismail from the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Canada, explained that the study did not refer to “blips” in a person’s behavior. Instead, the changes they analyzed were sustained and formed new ways of functioning.
He also said “that out-of-character behavior can be the first sign of something going wrong in the brain.”
The findings led Dr. Zahinoor and his colleagues to comprise a symptom checklist that helps doctors assess if their older patients present mild behavioral problems. Further research is required to improve the tool, but it offers hope in diagnosing people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Memory loss might be preceded by behavioral changes
Memory loss might be one of the leading symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but other signs should not be overlooked. Neuropsychiatric symptoms, for example, can also be related, and they involve behavior, mood and perception problems.
Measuring mild behavioral impairment was and continues to be fairly difficult, according to Keith Fargo, head of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Even though he was not involved in the new study, Fargo believes the checklist could provide some helpful assistance to doctors and families of the patients alike.
The takeaway here is that sustained behavior changes can represent a red flag. Researchers included on the list neuropsychiatric symptoms like decreased motivation, depression, anxiety, irritability, and problems with impulse control, among others.
It’s not completely clear how common mild behavioral impairment is, but Ismail said that if it’s combined with MCI, it could accelerate the progress to dementia.
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