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Using Famous Faces to Help Diagnose Early Onset Dementia

Update Date: Aug 13, 2013 12:24 PM EDT

With any diseases, diagnosing them as early as possible could significantly increase people's survival rates. For health conditions that still do not have a cure, an early diagnosis could stave off symptoms and extend the quality of life. For seniors who suffer from dementia, early treatment options could help one keep their sanity for as long as possible. In a new study, researchers attempted to find another way of detecting early onset dementia. Researchers discovered that people with early onset dementia are less capable of naming famous people. The researchers then reasoned that a new screening test using the faces of famous people could potentially be a new way of detecting dementia.

"People with this type of dementia consistently forget names of famous people they once knew - it's more than forgetting a name or two of a famous person," says senior author Emily Rogalski, an assistant research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

In this study, the researchers from Northwestern University created a new screening test using the faces of famous people, such as Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey and Albert Einstein. There were 20 pictures in total. These pictures, which were all black-and-white, were presented to people in the age group of 40 to 65. The team had recruited 27 people without dementia and 30 people who were already diagnosed with a type of dementia that was just starting to manifest. Every participant was rewarded points for each picture they identified correctly. The researchers discovered that people who were less likely to remember the names of the famous people had early-onset dementia.

This study was published in Neurology. Another study published this week also looked at risk factors that could contribute to early onset dementia. In this study, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a Swedish research team looked at the medical data of 488, 484 men with an average age of 37. 487 of them were diagnosed with early onset dementia. The researchers noted the high systolic blood pressure, low cognitive abilities and short stature during childhood could all play a factor in dementia risk. On top of these risks, the researchers also listed paternal health history, alcohol or drug use, stroke, depression and antipsychotic drugs as other risk factors.

With more of these studies identifying dementia risk, researchers hope that in the future more can be done to prevent or at least, delay dementia. 

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