New test to distinguish Alzheimer’s from depression


Monday 9th November, 2009

New research suggests a multi-tasking test can help avoid confusion between depression and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as impaired reasoning and poor memory can be mistaken for signs of depression and as a result a diagnosis of dementia can be missed. Misdiagnosis leads to patients missing out on early treatment which can be of benefit to dementia sufferers.

Scientists have found that asking patients to perform two mental tasks at once is a way of telling the conditions apart.

This ‘dual-tasking’ test was performed on 89 people within three groups – Alzheimer’s patients, people suffering with chronic depression and healthy elderly people with no memory impairment. Those with Alzheimer’s performed significantly worse than the other groups.

The study by the University of Edinburgh was funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and is the first to compare dual mental tasks in Alzheimer’s disease patients and people with depression.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, believes these findings will help GPs to make a proper diagnosis of dementia.

“Currently, up to two thirds of people with dementia never receive a formal diagnosis and it is often misdiagnosed as depression. The study will help develop a simple screening test that will help GPs discriminate Alzheimer’s from normal ageing and depression,” she said.

“An early diagnosis is hugely important as it may enable people with dementia to understand their condition, have access to certain drugs that could help relieve some of their symptoms and enable them to plan for their future long-term care needs.

“One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years. We must act now.”

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