Saturday, 19 March 2011

Predicting Alzheimer’s Through One’s Writing

Alzheimer’s disease. The “nun study” was conducted to examine aging women over time, and the focus of the study was at first on four women, not actual nuns, but sisters with similar history and background.
Photo by churl
David Snowden, the conductor of the study, signed on eventually close to seven hundred sisters, age 75 and older, and all of them agreed to donate small portions of their brains to the experimental study after they died. Each year, a researcher would visit in order to set-up memory tests for the elderly women, and upon one of these visits, Snowden made an unlikely discovery. A collection of biographies that many of the women had to write upon entering the school fifty years ago displayed some very pertinent information. Snowden and his research team looked at the following two criteria: grammatical complexity and the amount of distinct ideas within every ten words. An idea-laden sentence appears as follows:
“It was about a half hour before midnight between February 28 and 29 of the leap year 1912 when I began to live, and to die, as the third child of my mother, whose maiden name is Hilda Hoffman, and my father, Otto Schmidt…”
And here’s an example of a sentence with less ideas in it: “I was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on May 24, 1913, and was baptized in St. James Church…”
The discovery for Snowden and his research team was that the sisters who did poorly regarding these two measures were much more likely to develop dementia. And those sisters at the bottom third of the sample were close to sixty times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those at the top third of the study. According to this test, ninety-two percent of the time, researchers were able to predict that the brain in question had some of the lesions and plaque associated with the disease. Opposing beliefs claim that the study is merely an association, which does not mean simple writing points to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later on in life. Further analysis concludes that Alzheimer’s can be detected early, following a number of methods, but it is uncertain whether writing can be justified as a discernable method for doing so.

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