Researchers presenting at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2016 today, have described a condition called mild behavioural impairment (MBI) that may precede memory and thinking problems in dementia.
Dementia involves a number of symptoms including memory loss but also encompassing behaviour and personality changes. As a progressive condition that usually has a gradual onset, it can be difficult to distinguish the early stages of dementia from normal age-related changes or other health conditions such as stress or depression. The term mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is often used to describe changes in memory and thinking skills that aren’t as severe as dementia but may indicate that someone is in the early stages of a disease like Alzheimer’s. The researchers propose mild behavioural impairment (MBI) as a similar concept, reflecting early behavioural changes that are out-of-character for a person and present for over six months.
By looking at five categories of symptoms – motivation, mood, impulse control, social appropriateness and psychosis – a panel of international experts have developed an MBI Checklist that could assess behaviour changes that may be useful in monitoring or identifying early symptoms in people at high risk of going on to develop dementia. Research by the Canadian group has shown that these behavioural symptoms often occur alongside early memory problems and those carers looking after someone experiencing these symptoms report a higher level of stress.
Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Dementia isn’t just about memory loss, changes in a person’s mood and behaviour often go hand-in-hand with better-known symptoms such as memory problems and disorientation. Family members often tell us that slight out-of-character behaviour was one of the first warning signs that something was not right in a loved one, particularly in those who develop dementia at a younger age. The research presented today shows how common some of these behavioural changes may be in people with mild memory and thinking problems and that measuring them using a checklist could help to identify those people in the early stages of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
“Better characterising the symptoms of dementia is vital, and identifying new ways to detect the earliest changes is key for supporting timely diagnoses. Not only does early diagnosis enable people to access the most appropriate care and support, it also allows potential treatments to be trialled early in the disease process – at the point at which they are likely to be most effective. This research is important for pulling together knowledge of early symptoms, but the only way to tell if mild behavioural impairment could be useful in predicting future dementia is through larger and longer research studies. Anyone who is worried about worsening changes in behaviour, personality or memory in themselves or a loved one should seek advice from their doctor.”