Holding your pen can indicate risk of Alzheimer’s: researchers

How you hold a pen could indicate your risk of Alzheimer’s — the biggest killer in the UK, a study has found.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, causes a person to slowly lose their memory and ability to carry out daily tasks.

It progresses over many years and therefore can be difficult to spot.

But there are some early cues in a person’s behavior that can signal potential looming diagnosis, from bad parking to a change of humor.

A newly identified red flag could be if your Grandma’s handwriting in your birthday card is a little wobbly.

Pen and paper tests are often used by a GP to diagnose Alzhehemier’s, and require a person to draw a shape such as a star, or a clock face, from memory.

The less able they are to do it, the more likely they have dementia.

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, have now discovered other signs in pen and paper tests that could appear much earlier on.

They recruited 144 people with varying levels of cognitive ability, including some with dementia and some who were completely healthy.

Researchers in Japan conducted their study by measuring the pen pressure, speed and posture of 144 participants.
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Each participant went through five different drawing tests which measured 22 features of drawing.

These included pen pressure, pen posture, speed and how often the person paused.

The researchers then compared these features and used a computer-based program to see how well the drawing traits could be used to identify people with or without normal cognition.

Some of the patients had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is when someone has memory loss a little worse than ageing, but not as severe as dementia.

They are still able to perform day-to-day activities.

The researchers were able to spot those with MCI or Azlheimer’s based on their drawing style.

They had greater variability on pen pressure, meaning some lines were smooth and strong, while others were weak and wobbly.

They paused for longer and their speed was slower.

The accuracy of the five tests all together for detecting people who had Alzheimer’s was 75.2 percent all together.

Professor Tetsuaki Arai, senior author of the study, said: “Although it’s clear that motion- and pause-related drawing traits can be used to screen for cognitive impairments, most screening tests remain relatively inaccurate.

“We wondered what might happen if we were to analyze these traits while people performed a range of different drawing tasks.

“The three-group classification accuracy of all five tests was 75.2 percent, which was almost 10 percent better than that of any of the tests by themselves.”

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in every six people over the age of 80.

It is not a normal part of aging, and leads to a person forgetting simple things such as how to tie a shoelace or tell the time.

But at its worst, patients will forget their partner of decades or own children, which is devastating to watch.

The disease is incurable, but there are medicines to relieve symptoms.

An early diagnosis helps a person to plan their future while they can still make decisions.

This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been reproduced here with permission.

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