08:35am Saturday 19 October 2019

Dual task test could help diagnose dementia

Depression and the early stages of dementia share many of the same symptoms. For people with severe depression the powers of reasoning and memory may be very badly impaired and it is this state that is most easily confused with dementia.

The study, carried out by Professor Della Sala and his team at the University of Edinburgh, compared dual tasking ability in people with Alzheimer’s, people with depression and healthy older people with no memory impairment. Dual tasking is the ability to perform two activities at the same time, such as talking to a companion whilst walking across a room. The findings showed that people with Alzheimer’s performed significantly worse on the dual-task trials than people with depression and healthy older people, even when allowances were made for differences in memory.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, says,



‘This is the first piece of research to compare the performance of dual tasks in Alzheimer’s disease and depression and could mean that people with dementia are diagnosed earlier. Currently, up to two thirds of people with dementia never receive a formal diagnosis and it is often misdiagnosed as depression. Dela Salla’s team aims to develop a simple screening test that will help GPs discriminate Alzheimer’s from normal ageing and depression.’

‘An early diagnosis is hugely important as it may enable people with dementia to understand their condition, have access to certain drugs that could help relieve some of their symptoms and enable them to plan for their future long term care needs. One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years. We must act now.’



Research reference: Sergio Della Sala et al, University of Edinburgh ‘Alzheimer’s disease, but not ageing or depression, affects dual-tasking’. Journal of Neurology Volume 256, Number 11, November 2009. The study involved 89 participants from three groups: people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, people with chronic depression and healthy elderly individuals.

Notes to editors


  • One in three people over 65 will die with dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 700,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, more than half have Alzheimer’s disease. In less than 20 years nearly a million people will be living with dementia. This will soar to 1.7 million people by 2051.
  • Alzheimer’s Society champions the rights of people living with dementia and the millions of people who care for them.
  • Alzheimer’s Society works in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Alzheimer’s Society needs to raise money to help people live well with dementia today and for research to find a cure for tomorrow. You can donate now by calling 0845 306 0898 or visiting alzheimers.org.uk 
  • Alzheimer’s Society provides a National Dementia Helpline, the number is 0845 300 0336 or visit alzheimers.org.uk

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