Researchers Say a Virtual Reality Maze Could “Predict” Alzheimer’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJanuary 4, 2016

A recent study found a link between those genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease and their performance on a virtual reality maze. Researchers found that people with the APOE4 gene, generally linked to early onset Alzheimer’s, had reduced spatial navigation functioning demonstrated in their performance on completing the maze.

Learn more about the study, its limitations and its potential impact on future treatment methods.

Virtual Reality Maze Could Predict Spatial Disorientation in Alzheimer’s

A study by the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany, found a correlation between performance on a virtual reality maze and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The research team created a virtual reality maze and asked a group of participants between the ages of 18-30 to complete the maze.

They found that the participants who were already at a high risk for Alzheimer’s, carrying the APOE4 gene that researchers believe can trigger the early onset of the disease, demonstrated reduced spatial navigation functioning and navigated the maze differently than participants without the gene.

Dr. Lukas Kuna, one of the lead researchers, noted:

“The risk carriers showed a less stable grid pattern in the entorhinal cortex… Many decades before they might develop Alzheimer’s dementia.”

A Closer Look at the Implications of the Research on Future Detection Methods

The study and its findings were published in the journal Science, and researchers hope that it could help future studies on early Alzheimer’s detection and treatment. Kunz is hopeful that their study will lay groundwork for future research efforts, stating, “Our results could provide a new basic framework for preclinical research on Alzheimer’s disease and may provide a neurocognitive explanation of spatial disorientation in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Other researchers are more cautious asking which came first, the genetic disposition to Alzheimer’s or the poor performance on the virtual maze. Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research, wonders if the group genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s may already be demonstrating changes in the brain’s functioning. Regardless, she notes the importance of the study, saying:

“Although we don’t know whether the young people in this study will go on to develop Alzheimer’s, characterising early brain changes associated with genetic risk factors is important to help researchers better understand why some people may be more susceptible to the disease later in life. The risk factors for Alzheimer’s are diverse, including age, genetics and lifestyle, and research is vital to allow us to unpick how each of these factors could contribute to a person’s risk of the disease.”

What do you think about this virtual reality maze and it’s potential impact on future Alzheimer’s treatment methods? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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