Investigating Differences Between Dementia Subtypes

There is a mixed methods study investigating subtypes of dementia titled ‘Qualitative aspects of learning, recall, and recognition in dementia’ by Ranjith and colleagues which is freely available here. The researchers have used a memory test known as the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT). This test involves presenting a list of 15 words and then providing ‘interference’ with another set of 15 words. The subject’s recall are is then tested. This test can provide evidence of primacy and recency effects. With the primacy effect a person is more likely to remember words at the beginning of the list. With the recency effect, people are more likely to remember words at the end of the list. The researchers wanted to see how verbal memory was effected affected in people with three types of dementia – Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Vascular Dementia (VaD) and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). They recruited 80 people with dementia and 30 controls. They used rigorous methods to establish diagnosis including the use of established criteria and a consensus meeting involving a team of clinicians for case ascertainment. The research took place in Kerala and the researchers translated the test into Malayalam. There were a few results I found particularly interesting. The FTD group were more likely to produce false positives in the recognition task while the other two groups were more likely to register misses on this task.  The delayed recall task produced the biggest differences between the control group and the other three groups. Interestingly on the free recall task, the FTD group were comparable to the control group on the recency effect. This was not the case for the AD and VaD groups. In free recall and recognition the researchers were unable to discriminate between VaD and AD. These are just a few of the results from the study which shows how important it is at a theoretical level to be able to characterise the dementia subtypes by performance on very specific psychometric tests. This in turn can facilitate the development of a more precise language tailored to the separate diagnostic categories.

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