A group of scientists from the United Kingdom developed a test that proved capable of diagnosing, with 98% accuracy, cases of Alzheimer’s diseaseeven those in early stagewhich are typically more difficult to identify with currently used procedures.
The method is relatively simple and, according to the authors of the study, can be adapted to hospitals, as it uses a MRI equipment which is usually already available.
The researchers developed a machine learning system (artificial intelligence) to use the data obtained from traditional magnetic resonance imaging to diagnose the disease.
Accuracy in differentiating early and advanced stages was considered high — 79% of patients.
The algorithm is based on dividing the brain into 115 regions. 660 features were allocated, such as size, shape and texture, to differentiate the patterns of each area.
The system was then trained to identify where the changes appeared and which ones were most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s.
“Currently, no other simple and widely available method can predict Alzheimer’s disease with this level of accuracy, so our research is an important step forward. Many patients who present with Alzheimer’s in memory clinics also have other neurological conditions, but even within that group, our system can distinguish patients who have Alzheimer’s from those who don’t.”
Alzheimer’s is a disease for which there is no cure, but early diagnosis makes a big difference in allowing the patient to have access to treatments that help to delay the progression of symptoms.
The methods used today in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s involve tests performed in the office and some imaging tests, but they are usually done only when the patient already has some level of cognitive impairment.
“Waiting for a diagnosis can be a horrible experience for patients and their families. If we could reduce the waiting time, make the diagnosis a simpler process and reduce some of the uncertainty, it would help a lot”, adds the professor.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), currently 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, of which between 60% and 70% have Alzheimer’s.
With the aging population, it is estimated that dementia could affect 78 million people eight years from now and 139 million by 2050.
The United States National Institute on Aging lists the following: symptoms associated with early Alzheimer’s:
• Memory loss
• Difficulty in judgment, which leads to bad decisions
• Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
• Slower to complete normal daily tasks
• Repeated questions
• Problems handling money and paying bills
• Wandering around and getting lost
• Losing things or putting them in strange places
• Mood and personality changes
• Increased anxiety and/or aggression
You symptoms in moderate cases involve:
• Increased memory loss and confusion
• Inability to learn new things
• Difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing and working with numbers
• Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically
• Reduced attention span
• Problems dealing with new situations
• Difficulty performing multi-step tasks, such as getting dressed
• Problems recognizing family and friends
• Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia
• Impulsive behavior such as undressing at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language
• Inappropriate outbursts of anger
• Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, crying, wandering—especially in the late afternoon or evening
• Repetitive statements or movements, occasional muscle spasms
You more advanced Alzheimer’s usually present:
• Inability to communicate
• Weight loss
• Skin infections
• Difficulty swallowing
• Moans or grunts
• Increased sleep
• Loss of bowel and bladder control