Performance in non-verbal memory tests - such as remembering geometric shapes and patterns - has been shown to be linked to the size of the hippocampus.
This could potentially provide a way to improve the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, according to research published in the journal Alzheimer's Research and Therapy.
The preliminary study of 226 people who had been referred to a memory clinic indicates an association between brain volume, in particular the size of a person's hippocampus, and memory. As the hippocampus shrinks in Alzheimer's disease, this could help to diagnose the condition at an earlier stage and potentially identify those people with mild cognitive impairment (memory problems beyond normal age-related decline) who are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Society, said:
'Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, particularly in the earlier stages, can be very complex. Studying the hippocampus, which is important for short-term memory, can give clinicians a better indication as it's often the first part of the brain which is affected by the disease.
'It's interesting that tests of non-verbal memory, such as remembering geometric shapes and patterns, could give clues to the health of the hippocampus in people with memory problems. These could be used as a diagnostic tool to help identify Alzheimer's disease at an earlier stage, enabling people to access vital treatments, information and support sooner.
'This is a promising area of research. Alzheimer's Society is currently funding a study to develop short-term memory tests that can help to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and differentiate it from other forms of dementia.'