British researchers are working on groundbreaking technology that could detect early signs of dementia before symptoms start to show. We spoke to Carol Routledge, Alzheimer Research UK’s Director of Research to find out more.
With no available cure yet, the number of people in the UK affected by the condition is predicted to rise to 1.7 million by 2040, and 1 in 3 people born from 2015 onwards are expected to develop some form of dementia.
Symptoms only emerge after the disease has been underway in the brain for a number of years, sometimes as long as twenty. The Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) is the project spearheaded by Alzheimer’s Research UK to develop new ways to detect diseases like this one years before symptoms show. They’re exploring how combined devices like a phone app with a wearable gadget such as a smartwatch could be used to do this.
“The aim is to develop a device, likely a combination of a wearable and a phone app, which measures a number of different physiological and behavioural events that when added together will help us detect diseases early, based on the patterns of change in these measures” Carol explains.
The technology will capture data related to sleep patterns, speech and physical activity to measure signs of potential diseases. This will ultimately lead to detecting dementia. “We are not intending to measure signs of dementia, but rather this is to detect diseases specifically” Carol says. “We will not in the first instance be able to predict the risk of dementia either but hopefully as we use the device both to detect diseases and measure the rate of progression of diseases then we should ultimately be able to predict the onset of dementia.”
“We then need to intervene, either through making the right lifestyle choices, or with drug treatments or other treatments to slow down disease. If we can slow down diseases at an early stage – which is why the device helps so much – then we should be able to delay or stop the onset of dementia entirely.”
As well as making lifestyle changes such as eating a balanced diet, exercising and getting good quality sleep, researchers think it’s possible that the drugs currently used to treat dementia will be more effective if given at a much earlier stage of the disease.
Much of the technology being studied is available already, but has never been brought together for this purpose before. Only then will scientists be able to tell how disease-specific and sensitive the combined device will be.
For more information visit Alzheimer’s Research UK