Simple Test May Detect Alzheimer’s Before Symptoms Appear

A senior couple chatting and readingResearchers at York University have found that a thinking and movement test could help diagnose Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear. Doctors typically diagnose Alzheimer’s based on a battery of neurological exams and a thorough evaluation of symptoms. This approach means that people frequently experience uncertainty about their diagnosis, and doctors don’t typically make an Alzheimer’s diagnosis until a person with the condition already has symptoms.

Earlier Detection of Alzheimer’s

Researchers divided participants into three groups based on their Alzheimer’s risk. One group had a family history of Alzheimer’s or a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Two other groups—one with younger people and one with older people—had no history of Alzheimer’s and no cognitive impairment.

Researchers then asked each group to complete a series of four increasingly challenging tasks involving spatial reasoning and cognitive-motor skills. In one test, for example, participants had to move a mouse in the opposite direction of an item on the screen. More than 80% of people with MCI or a family history of Alzheimer’s had difficulty completing the most challenging task, even when they didn’t have outward signs of Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that such a test could help to detect subtle shifts in cognitive functioning before Alzheimer’s symptoms become visible. 

Signs of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s can be a frightening diagnosis, particularly since there’s not yet a cure. Some seniors may worry they have Alzheimer’s when they’re just experiencing normal symptoms of aging. Others may ignore telltale signs of the disease for months or years.

Knowing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can help you get quality medical care as early as possible. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Pervasive memory loss that interferes with your ability to function in daily life. Forgetting a word here or there or needing to pause to remember a name, on the other hand, can both be part of the normal aging process.
  • Difficulty completing daily tasks, such as following a beloved recipe or driving somewhere familiar. The occasional need to pause and think before completing a familiar task, however, can be normal.
  • Difficulty following a conversation, speaking, or writing. Simply experiencing occasional difficulties remembering or “finding” a word, though, is normal.
  • Confusion regarding time and dates. It’s normal to occasionally forget what day it is or need to double-check a calendar. But being unaware of the passage of time is a warning sign.
  • Losing things or getting lost. Everyone misplaces objects sometimes or needs assistance locating a car in a parking lot. But frequently getting lost, putting items in unusual locations, or losing things so frequently that it interferes with daily functioning are experiences that warrant medical attention.


  1. Know the 10 signs [PDF]. (2011). Chicago: Alzheimer’s Association.
  2. Simple test can help detect Alzheimer’s before dementia signs show, study shows. (2014, September 19). Retrieved from

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  • DeeDee


    September 25th, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    I know that early detection is the key to better treatment but I am never sure that I would actually want to know that I was getting this disease. I know that sounds so passive, and I don’t like that aspect of it, but that would be downright scary to know ahead of time that this is your fate. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was any kind of treatment that seems to work but I never have heard anything promising too much in the way of treatment for this. I mean, if push came to shove then I guess that I would want to know just to start preparing but that is a very dauting thing to even imagine knowing ahead of time.

  • Claudia


    September 25th, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    I get it that there are the thinking and movement tests, that seems pretty cut and dry, but what about genetic markers that will indicate whether or not Alzheimer’s is something that will impact you in your later years. Is that sort of testing even feasible at this point? I have to think that this could let us know even sooner in life whether we are at risk and would lead to then even earlier diagnosis and treatment.

  • charla


    September 26th, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    What are the rates of doctors who are trained to do these kinds of tests? And would this be from a general practitioner or an internist or geriatric doctor?

  • John C.

    John C.

    September 27th, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    I would like to know if there is an age recommendation of when tests like this should begin. Or do you wait until something does not seem quite right

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