Written by Active Minds on Thursday the 5th of November 2015.
At the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases, a team of neuroscientists have been developing a virtual reality maze that they believe could have the potential to diagnose dementia decades before its onset.
With participants aged 18-30, the test involved finding a way through a virtual reality maze and was designed to test the function of a specific set of brain cells. According to the team, participants with the highest risk of developing dementia were identified by diminished spatial navigation abilities and tended to navigate the maze in a different way to those who were at a lower risk of developing dementia.
If the team at the Centre are correct in their findings, the test could have a huge impact on both the diagnosis and general understanding of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Those at risk or set to develop the condition could be warned years in advance, potentially increasing the effectiveness of therapies and treatments. It would also help us go some way to understanding the many, complications that lead to the onset of cognitive impairment.
It’s not just those who may develop Alzheimer’s in the future who could be affected by the test however. The team also believe that the virtual reality maze could help us better understand why some people living with dementia often experience spatial disorientation. There is a certain type of cell in the brain that is responsible for spatial awareness and navigation, and these cells were found to have reduced functioning in the test participants who were at the highest risk of developing dementia. An understanding of the specific cells that are affected could then provide the basis of key research into improving the condition of dementia patients experiencing disorientation.
Identifying the genes responsible for the onset of dementia would be a huge breakthrough in understanding the condition and we look forward to reading more exciting research and results from the team.