Orientation problems in the digital world have helped detect Alzheimer's disease

Alters in the brain, typical for Alzheimer's disease, begin long before the appearance of key symptoms - memory impairment, problems with problem-solving. Therefore, one of the key realms of medicine is to identify biomarkers that appear in the early stages of the disease. Scientists from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Disease (Germany) and the University of California (USA) have found that one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is a disturbance of spatial orientation. 

The experiment involved 60 cognitively healthy people aged 22 to 69 years. Virtual reality was used to evaluate spatial orientation ability. Subjects were "moved" in a digital environment to a designated target. In this case, a real movement led directly to movements in the virtual space.

During the experiment, participants were asked to estimate the distance and direction to the starting point of the path several times. To do this, people had to correctly assess their position in space, based on the perception of their own movement. This indicator, called path integration, is considered a central function of spatial orientation. 

It was found out that the unstable activity of entorhinal cortex neurons was found in elderly people having difficulties with orientation in space. This part of the brain, located in the temporal lobe, plays a key role in the work of the spatial orientation system. It was also found that the first manifestations of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease occur in this area - this occurs long before any symptoms appear. 

- Alzheimer's disease is associated with damage to the entorhinal cortex at an early stage," explained one of the authors of the study, Professor Thomas Wolbers. - Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that orientation disorders that manifest themselves in Alzheimer's disease occur in this area of the brain. In the long term, our goal is to develop diagnostic methods that detect Alzheimer's disease at an early stage, including using technology such as virtual reality. 

June 15, 2020, 2:14 p.m.

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