May 4 (HealthDay News) -- Difficulty distinguishing between important and less important information begins in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers report.
They add that the finding may encourage doctors to train people in the early stages of Alzheimer's how to better remember important information.
The study included 109 healthy older adults (average age 75), 41 people with very early Alzheimer's disease (average age 76), 13 people with early Alzheimer's (average age 77), and 35 younger adults (average age 20).
All the participants were asked to study and learn new words that were randomly assigned different point values. They were then asked to recall the words and maximize the total value while doing so. All the participants recalled more high-value words than low-value words, but the Alzheimer's patients were less able to remember items according to their value.
This shows that Alzheimer's patients no longer maximize learning and memory, which is a fairly efficient process in healthy people, said the researchers, from the University of Washington in St. Louis. They noted that Alzheimer's may make it more difficult for people to encode what they learn in a strategic way.
The study appears in the May issue of Neuropsychology.
SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, May 4, 2009