Dementia: Changes in drawing traits may signal ‘early-stage’ cognitive impairment – study

Frontotemporal dementia symptoms include 'changes in personality'

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Dementia is a progressive disease characterised by various symptoms at different stages. Eventually, the condition can become so severe it leaves patients unable to look after themselves. There is evidence that changes in drawing traits could be indicative of cognitive decline. These findings, experts believe, could form the basis of effective diagnostic tools in the future.

New research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests changes in drawing traits may occur in people with early-stage cognitive impairments.

The scientists came to the finding after setting out five different drawing tests for participants, which would help assess various aspects of cognition interlinked with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.

The tests revealed an array of 22 different drawing features among participants, relating to pen pressure, pen posture, speed and pauses.

Tetsuaki Arai, the Study senior author and professor at the University of Tsukuba, said: “Although it’s clear that motion – and pause-related drawing traits can be used for cognitive impairments, most screening tests remain relatively inaccurate.

“We wondered what might happen if we were to analyse these traits while people performed a range of different drawing tasks.”

The features were compared with scores using a computer-based program to see how well the drawing traits could be used to identify people with normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Arai added: “We were surprised by how well the combination of drawing traits extracted from multiple tasks worked by capturing different complementary aspects of cognitive impairments.

“The three-group classification accuracy of all five tests was 75.2 percent, which was almost 10 percent better than that of any of the tests by themselves.”

The team’s analyses revealed key differences in the drawing features between the three groups, with the greatest changes seen between the normal and Alzheimer’s disease subjects, compared to the normal and mild cognitive impairment subjects.

This is important because mild cognitive impairment is often considered an early and less severe form of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Although this was a relatively small study, the results are encouraging,” says Professor Arai.

“Our results pave the way for better screening tests for cognitive impairments, screening tests are becoming more important.

“Better screening will lead to earlier diagnosis, which will, in turn, improve patients’ quality of life.”

The Social Care Institute for Excellence echoes this thought on the importance of early diagnosis.

It explains that an early diagnosis can provide many long-awaited answers for failing memory, communication problems and changes in behaviour.

The health body adds: “An early diagnosis opens the door to future care and treatment. It helps people to plan ahead while they are still able to make important decisions on their care and support needs and on financial and legal matters.”

The number of people living with dementia in the UK is estimated at around 850,000, but the number is on course to grow in coming years.

The condition typically strikes people in older age, leaving them to become increasingly forgetful and confused.

But the prevalence of dementia in young people is equally alarming, affecting some 42,000 people in the UK.

People whose symptoms started when they were under the age of 65 are known as ‘younger people’ with dementia, or as having young-onset dementia.

“Like all people with dementia, younger people may experience a wide range of symptoms, especially in the early stages of dementia,” explains the health organisation Alzheimer’s UK.

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