Researchers in Sheffield are analysing a new ‘conversational’ technique to help distinguish between dementia and other causes of memory loss.
The new research suggests there is no need to be anxious about an awkward memory lapse – as long as you can recall enough of the embarrassing detail to tell a friend about it.
Researchers at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have found that how people talk about their memory problems is a vital clue to pinpointing their cause.
Memory problems may be an early sign of organic disease such as dementia – but they may be also caused by other factors, such as anxiety or depression.
This is called functional memory disorder (FMD) and is unlikely to get worse, according to consultant neurologist Prof Markus Reuber, at Sheffield Teaching Hospital.
Prof Reuber first used Conversational Analysis as a diagnostic tool in Germany with patients suffering from seizures. There, he found it was possible to distinguish between those suffering from epilepsy and those suffering from seizures caused by other factors simply by listening to them talk about symptoms. The success rate was 85 per cent.
In a pilot study, Prof Reuber and his team are now applying CA to patients referred by GPs to the specialist memory clinic at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. The researchers have studied videos of more than 100 patients during their first consultation at the clinic.
Prof Reuber describes the findings as ‘‘dramatic’’.
One clear difference which emerged between those diagnosed with dementia and those with FMD, was the way people responded when two or more questions were grouped together. ‘‘Ask a patient: ‘Where are you from originally and where did you go to college?’ and the person with dementia will not be able retain the information and answer both questions,’” said Prof Reuber.
Another clue was the use of the phrase ‘‘As I said…’’ or ‘‘Like I said…’’ which indicates a ‘‘working memory’’ during the conversation: patients with dementia did not tend to use these phrases.
The Sheffield team hopes their Conversation Analysis technique will provide GPs and other primary care workers with an easily applied method to make a distinction.
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