Scientists are testing an artificial intelligence system that they believe can diagnose dementia after a single brain scan.
It can also predict whether the condition will remain stable for many years, deteriorate slowly, or whether the patient will need immediate treatment.
Currently, several tests and CT scans are needed to diagnose dementia.
The researchers involved in the study say that early diagnosis of the system they developed can significantly improve patients’ outlook.
Says Professor Zoe Kurzi, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge (UK) and a fellow at the National Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science at the Alan Turing Institute.
“It’s possible that symptoms will occur later in life or never at all,” he adds.
Professor Cortese’s system compares brain scans of people thought to have dementia with thousands of patients with the condition and their related medical records.
In this sense, the algorithm can identify patterns in these tests that might go unnoticed by neurologists and match them to patients’ results in its database.
In preclinical tests, he was able to diagnose dementia years before symptoms appeared, even when there were no obvious signs of brain damage on a CT scan.
The trial, conducted at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and other memory clinics across the UK, will test whether the system works in a clinical setting alongside traditional methods of diagnosing dementia.
About 500 patients are expected to participate in the first year.
The results will be sent to their doctors, who can, if necessary, advise them on the course of treatment.
Neurologist Tim Reitman, who is leading the study, called the AI system a “remarkable achievement.” In collaboration with neuroscientists from the University of Cambridge.
“This group of diseases is really devastating to people. So when I have to give this information to a patient, anything that I can do to be more confident about the diagnosis, to give them more details about the possible progression of the disease and thus help to plan their lives better… is something I find it very useful.”
One of the volunteers is 75-year-old Briton Dennis Clark. A former CEO of a meat company, he retired five years ago.
Last year, his wife Penelope noticed that Denise sometimes had memory problems.
Now the couple is concerned that he has dementia.
Denise tries to describe his symptoms, but Penelope intervenes to say that she finds it difficult to explain what is happening.
Another concern plaguing the couple is that they have to sell their home to fund Denise’s medical care.
So Penelope says she’s relieved that she doesn’t have to wait so long to get a diagnosis and an indication of how any dementia is progressing.
“We can then plan financially,” she says. “We’d like to know if we, as a couple, can take time off before things get so bad that we can’t travel anymore because of Dennis’ health.”
Mark Thompson, another Reitmann patient, 57, says the early diagnosis system would have made a “big difference” in his life if it had been available when he began experiencing memory lapses ten months ago.
“I had one test after another, and at least four before I was diagnosed[with dementia],” he recalls.
“The medical team was great and did their best to find out what hit me.”
“But the uncertainty was causing me more mental problems than anything this condition could cause.”
“Was it a tumor? Will I have to have surgery to remove it? I was so nervous because I don’t know what hit me.”
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