Early Attention Decline May Indicate Other Impairments

The deterioration of attention found in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and the decline of other functional abilities was the subject of a recent study. Scientists at the University of Iowa theorize that these early impairments may adversely affect other functions, including memory.

Attention and cognitive abilities were tested in 42 people with mild Alzheimer’s Disease. They performed significantly worse than the 22 without Alzheimer’s. Researchers also determined that the differences in abilities were not due to age.

The study may be useful in the future for diagnosis and assessment purposes and could lead to more routine assessment of visual attention deficits in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Visual attention impairments in Alzheimer’s disease.

Rizzo M, Anderson SW, Dawson J, Myers R, Ball K

College of Medicine, Department of Neurology (Drs. Rizzo and Anderson), College of Engineering (Dr. Rizzo), and College of Public Health (Dr. Dawson), The University of Iowa, Iowa City; and the Department of Psychology (Drs. Myers and Ball).

BACKGROUND: Impaired attention can hinder information processing at multiple levels and may explain aspects of functional decline in aging and dementia. Impairments of attention in early AD may contribute to performance reductions in other cognitive domains, including memory and executive functions.

METHOD: The authors analyzed the scores on a battery of tests of attention and cognitive abilities in 64 older individuals: 42 with mild AD and 22 control subjects without dementia. The authors tested the hypotheses that patients with AD would have impairments of visual attention, and that these impairments would correlate with dysfunction in other key cognitive domains.

RESULTS: Patients with AD performed significantly worse than control subjects on measures of sustained attention, divided attention, selective attention, and visual processing speed. The differences were not due to differences in age, education, or basic visual function. Strong relationships were identified between reduced attention skills and overall cognitive impairment.

CONCLUSIONS: Deterioration of attention abilities occurs in early stages of AD, and likely contributes to functional decline in these patients. More routine assessment of visual attention deficits could give a more accurate measure of functionally useful perception in patients with AD who show normal visual acuity and visual fields, perhaps providing useful clues to diagnosis and staging.

PMID: 10822436, UI: 20284135

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