This surprising habit could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s

25 February 2017

Speaking in long-winded sentences may be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s, new research warns.

While many studies have focused on recall to determine the diagnosis and seriousness of the degenerative brain disease, experts have now decided to try and pinpoint it before a patient’s memory begins to fade.

During the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Boston, US experts revealed that rambling away might indicate mild cognitive impairment (MCI); the stage before Alzheimer’s fully develops. By detecting it early on from the way people talk it could make a vital difference when it comes to treatments.

Researchers studied 22 healthy individuals, 24 healthy older people and 22 participants suffering from MCI, and gave them three words to include in a sentence.

Dr Janet Cohen Sherman, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, found a “significant difference” between the healthy groups and those with MCI; those who had the illness were “much less concise in conveying information” and their sentences were a lot longer.

“One of the greatest challenges right now in terms of Alzheimer’s disease is to detect changes very early on when they are still very subtle, and to distinguish them from changes we know occur with normal ageing,” she said.

“We are hoping we might be able to develop this into a test to detect early changes that are predictive of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr Sherman also looked at past studies on famous Alzheimer’s patients, notably author Agatha Christie and former US President Ronald Reagan. Reagan was diagnosed with the illness six years after he left office in 1989 and his language was compared to that of George W. Bush, who was in power between 2001 and 2009. It was found Reagan used more fillers in his speeches at press conferences and would often repeat himself.

Meanwhile, it was found that later books by Christie, who was suspected to have Alzheimer’s, lacked varied vocabulary compared to her earlier work.

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