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The First Warning Sign of Alzheimer's May Surprise You

Woman's Day logo Woman's Day 8/08/2017 Maria Carter

New Research Reveals a Surprising Early Symptom of Alzheimer's © Getty Images New Research Reveals a Surprising Early Symptom of Alzheimer's This problem crops up long before any clinical diagnosis of the disease​.

We've all heard the stories of the grandma who got lost on her way home from the grocery store, or the great uncle who relies on GPS for the drive to his weekly doctor's appointment, but now there's research to back up the anecdotal evidence that trouble finding your way around may indicate a much bigger problem.

Problems navigating new surroundings crop up before memory loss, and long before any clinical diagnosis of the disease, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis asked study participants to use patterns and landmarks to make their way through a maze on a computer, the Huffington Post reports. The individuals were divided into three groups: early-stage Alzheimer's patients, undiagnosed people with early markers for Alzheimer's (considered "preclinical Alzheimer's"), and a control group of clinically normal people.

The study showed that individuals with preclinical Alzheimer's had more difficulty learning the locations of objects.

"These findings suggest that the way finding difficulties experienced by people with preclinical Alzheimer's disease are in part related to trouble acquiring the environmental information," said senior author Denise Head, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences.

While Head cautioned that the study has limitations, she explained that navigational tasks that assess cognitive mapping strategy "could represent a powerful tool for detecting the very earliest Alzheimer's disease-related changes in cognition."

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