A new study has found that breakdown in attention plays an important role in the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
People in early stages of Alzheimer's disease find it more difficult to shift attention back and forth between different sources of information.
The study, published in the recent issue of the journal Neuropsychology, suggests that routine tasks that require the shifting of attention, such as driving a car while talking to a passenger, may become increasingly difficult for people in very early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
David A. Balota, a professor of psychology in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said, "our results indicate that breakdowns in attention produce a clear change in the early stages of Alzheimer's-related dementia.
"Because attention is prerequisite for memory, one might suspect that attention is one of the contributing culprits, at least early on in the disease," said lead researcher Janet M. Duchek.
The Alzheimer's patient's behaviour is often inappropriate, he cannot remember words and his social skills and reasoning start fading.
Participants for the study were drawn from volunteers at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Washington University. The researchers studied 94 older participants, average age mid-70s, who were healthy control individuals or individuals diagnosed with very mild, or mild dementia of the Alzheimer's type.
In an effort to measure each group's ability to effectively monitor and switch among competing channels of information, the researchers relied on a well-established psychological testing technique know as the dichotic listening task.
The study confirms that very early in the disease, people have problems with selective attention. This problem, although not as obvious as memory loss, may also explain why early-stage patients start to struggle with everyday tasks that call for processing a lot of information, such as driving.