Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Irvine

UC Irvine Previously Published Works bannerUC Irvine

Visual memory predicts Alzheimer's disease more than a decade before diagnosis.



Recent studies have suggested that AD may reflect a chronic process that begins many years before the clinical expression of dementia. The current study examines premorbid Benton Visual Retention Test (BVRT) and Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-vocabulary (WAIS-voc) test scores in order to determine whether long-term deficits in these tests can predict the development of AD decades later in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA).


Participants are volunteers from the BLSA, a multidisciplinary study of normal aging conducted by the National Institute on Aging. A total of 1,425 BLSA participants who were older than 60 years were included in the analyses. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate the relative risk of developing AD associated with BVRT and WAIS-voc scores at different time periods up to 20 years before the diagnosis of AD.


The relative risks for 6 or more BVRT errors vs less than 6 errors at 1 to 3, 3 to 5, 5 to 10, and 10 to 15 years before the diagnosis of AD were 5.69, 2.11, 1.76, and 1.83 (p < 0.05). The relative risk for 15 or more years before diagnosis was not significant (p > 0.10). WAIS-voc scores were not significantly associated with the risk of AD in any time period.


A greater number of errors on the BVRT is associated with an increased risk of AD up to 15 years later. Poor visual memory performance may represent an early expression of AD years before diagnosis. This result suggests the need to continue to revise views on the natural history of AD and the possibility of an increased window of opportunity for preventive treatment before definitive diagnosis.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View