Scientists are pioneering a simple but innovative method to early Alzheimer’s detection as part of an effort that may lead to better results for those who acquire the illness in the future. University of Bath psychologists are leading groundbreaking study, which is being supported by the dementia charity BRACE. It requires participants to spend two minutes staring at a computer screen filled with flashing pictures while their brain waves are monitored using an EEG cap. Researchers have shown that this method is extremely efficient in picking up modest and subtle changes in brain waves when a person recalls a picture, according to new study published today in the journal BRAIN. An important aspect of the method is that it is entirely passive, which means that the individual taking the test does not need or react to comprehend or even be aware of their memory response.
It is easy to scale, according to the researchers who developed the ‘Fastball EEG’ technology. It is also inexpensive, portable, and currently accessible in hospitals. A research with the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) and the Bristol Brain Centre at Southmead Hospital is currently using Fastball EEG in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the root cause of 60 percent of all cases of dementia, and it affects around 7 percent of the population in Europe and North America, respectively. With an ageing population and rising illness expenses, experts estimate that the condition costs the UK economy approximately £26 billion a year.
At this time, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed by combining subjective and objective assessments of cognitive loss, frequently including clinic-based memory testing. As a result of test-taker inability to communicate verbally and in writing and other factors, these assessments are useless for certain individuals. Drugs like the newly authorized Aducanumab, the first Alzheimer’s disease-modifying therapy, may be given earlier when they are more successful since we know more about people’s diseases at an earlier stage. Changing one’s way of life may also assist delay the development of an illness. Alzheimer’s disease is currently diagnosed at a late stage in the illness’s development. Fastball EEG, the researchers believe, may assist diagnose patients up to five years younger in the near future. They believe that in the long run, it may provide possibilities for additional growth. For the time being, they liken their future goals for its use to existing middle-aged blood pressure screening technologies.
Scientist Dr. George Stothart is the lead researcher and is a cognitive neuroscientist at Bath University. He says, “Fastball is an innovative method of evaluating how our brain functions.” Rather of asking the individual being tested whether they understand or react to the test, we alter the pictures that show onscreen to learn a great deal about their brain’s ability to perform certain things. Current Alzheimer’s diagnostic tests overlook the first two decades of a patient’s life. This leaves us with enormous gaps in our ability to assist individuals. We’ve had tools for probing the workings of the brain in scientific study for decades, but we’ve never developed a clinical tool for objectively assessing cognition. Fastball is our best chance for making that jump. “It’s an exciting time to be working on it. With the instrument, we’re testing it on Alzheimer’s patients who are in ever early stages of the disease and adding language and visual processing to the list of functions it can assess. Understanding Alzheimer’s will be made easier as well as many other types of dementia that are less prevalent. If this instrument were the Holy Grail, then everyone, regardless of symptoms, would be screened for dementia at the same time as they get tested for high blood pressure. We’re a long way off, but this is a positive start in the right direction.”
“We were pleased to be able to support Dr Stothart’s study, which obviously has great potential,” said Mark Poarch, BRACE’s CEO. An early diagnostic tool that would assist many individuals and help reverse the tide in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease may be developed as a consequence of this research. To put it another way, we have seen what occurs when the world invests in medical research to discover a vaccine for a deadly virus, and we must do the same for researchers working on dementia. Soon, Dr. Stothart and his colleagues will begin work on a major, £100,000 Academy of Medical Sciences-funded research on early dementia. New Fastball technology will be used to assess mild cognitive impairment patients in the research. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) may be the first indication of Alzheimer’s disease in some people, but it isn’t in others. By identifying those who may eventually develop Alzheimer’s, doctors may be able to diagnose the disease up to five years sooner. Learn more about the undertaking by doing some research.
Reference Journal: George Stothart, Laura J Smith, Alexander Milton, Elizabeth Coulthard. A passive and objective measure of recognition memory in Alzheimer’s disease using Fastball memory assessment. Brain, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awab154