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Analysing conversations 'can provide clues to dementia'

Analysing conversations 'can provide clues to dementia'
6th January 2015

How people talk about their memory problems could provide clues about whether they are signs of dementia or have a less serious cause.

Researchers at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have discovered a technique known as Conversation Analysis (CA), used with patients experiencing memory lapses, can help to distinguish between dementia and other problems, the Telegraph reports.

Although memory problems can be an early sign of a condition such as dementia, they can also be caused by non-organic factors such as anxiety or depression. This is known as Functional Memory Disorder (FMD) and is unlikely to get worse, according to consultant neurologist Professor Markus Reuber at Sheffield Teaching Hospital.

Professor Reuber and his team are using CA to study patients referred by GPs to the specialist memory clinic at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. After analysing conversational patterns during their initial consultation, they looked at whether these were linked to whether or not the person was later diagnosed with dementia.

The team found some striking differences. When asked two or more questions, the patients with dementia were unable to retain enough information to answer all of them. However, those whose memory problems were due to other factors could do so successfully.

Another indicator was the use of the phrase "As I said …" or "Like I said …", which indicates a 'working memory' during the conversation: patients with dementia did not tend to use these phrases.

In addition, those with FMD could remember the last time they suffered a memory lapse and construct detailed tales to describe the occasion. Those with dementia were unable to do so.

Clues could also be discovered by analysing patients' behaviour. Those who originally consulted their GP because they had concerns about their memory were less likely to have dementia than those who were prompted to seek help by family members.

People with dementia were more likely to turn to a friend or family member for support if they were present at the interviews, while those with FMD did not seek such reassurance.

The team hope the CA technique will provide an easily applied method to distinguish between people with dementia and FMD that can be used by GPs and other primary care workers.

Read more about Barchester's dementia care homes.