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Skills tests like 'connect the dots' may be early Alzheimer's indicator

Changing how physicians test patients for mental decline may reveal signs of Alzheimer's disease as much as three years before a typical diagnosis.

Along with collegues, senior author James Galvin, M.D., a Washington University neurologist and Lewy Body Dementia Association board member, have reported that more spatially oriented tasks become more difficult as early as three years before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Such tasks include connecting dots or following a guide to build a block structure.

"We may need to rethink what we look for as the earliest signs of mental change associated with Alzheimer's disease," Galvin said.

More information about the study is available on the Washington University Web site.

In an unrelated study, researchers have found that heavy use of the Internet can boost brain activity among the elderly, reports the Times of London.

“We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function,” said Gary Small, professor of neuroscience and human behaviour at University of California, Los Angeles.

Using functional MRI imaging, a technique that allows researchers to watch how the brain fires, researchers documented how Internet use stimulated brain activity over time. Internet use was more powerful even than reading in this regard, and the effects continued after a person had logged off.