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With the proportion of older adults in Hong Kong projected to double in size in the next 30 years, it is important to develop measures for detecting individuals in the earliest stage of Alzheimer's disease (AD, 0.5 in Clinical Dementia Rating, CDR). We tested the utility of a non-verbal prospective memory task (PM, ability to remember what one has to do when a specific event occurs in the future) as an early marker for AD in Hong Kong Chinese.
A large community dwelling sample of older adults who are healthy controls (CDR 0, N = 125), in the earliest stage of AD (CDR 0.5, N = 125), or with mild AD (CDR 1, N = 30) participated in this study. Their reaction time/accuracy data were analyzed by mixed-factor analyses of variance to compare the performance of the three CDR groups. Logistic regression analyses were performed to test the discriminative power of these measures for CDR 0 versus 0.5 participants.
Prospective memory performance declined as a function of AD severity: CDR 0 > CDR 0.5 > CDR 1, suggesting the effects of early-stage AD and AD progression on PM. After partialling out the variance explained by psychometric measures (e.g., ADAS-Cog), reaction time/accuracy measures that reflected the PM still significantly discriminated between CDR 0 versus 0.5 participants in most of the cases.
The effectiveness of PM measures in discriminating individuals in the earliest stage of AD from healthy older adults suggests that these measures should be further developed as tools for early-stage AD discrimination.