Researchers Find Balancing Ability May Predict Risk of Cognitive Decline

February 28, 2023 12:51:31

Investigators at the University of Tsukuba have discovered that physical balance can be used to predict an individual’s risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The researchers found that physicians may be able to identify patients who have higher chances of developing the neurological disease by measuring their physical balance.

Alzheimer’s disease is usually precipitated by mild cognitive impairment, a condition that results in a minor decline in cognitive function. This stage of cognitive decline is characterized by problems with memory, judgment or language and is usually followed by severe cognitive decline if left untreated.

Given that the presence of mild cognitive impairment significantly increases an individual’s risk of developing AD, diagnosing it early enough can help prevent the rapid progression of the condition. Knowing that Alzheimer’s is often accompanied by changes in vestibule function that result in issues with physical balance and that cause Alzheimer’s patients to fall frequently, the researchers set out to create a physical balance test for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Associate professor Naoya Yahagi, the study’s lead author, stated that early intervention was critical to prevent the advancement of Alzheimer’s. By assessing changes in vestibular function that occur in both MCI and AD, Yahagi and his team hoped to develop a test that could catch Alzheimer’s disease in its very early stages.

The study involved healthy volunteer participants aged 56 to 75 years of age who had not been diagnosed with cognitive impairment.

The research team developed a device using foam rubber and a Nintendo Wii balance board to test the relationship between vestibular function and balance capability on a scale dubbed the visual dependency index of postural stability. Since the scale had high specificity and sensitivity, it was able to pick up clues that indicated an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Prior to this, participants had to complete the visual dependency index of postural stability (VPS )as well as tests to determine their cognitive function.

Yahagi explained that the researchers used a cognitive ability screening test called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which demonstrated a high association between VPS scores and cognitive impairment. He further noted that the team’s findings indicated that the VPS scale picked up features of mild cognitive impairment in study participants easily and could be a useful tool in MCI screenings for the general public.

Such a test could allow physicians to screen their patients for Alzheimer’s disease long before the condition had developed and begin treatment to prevent the disease from advancing even further.

The study’s findings were published in the “BMC Geriatrics” journal.

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