Detection to diagnosis: new studies look at early identification of Alzheimer’s disease
Getting a diagnosis is often the first step to treatment, care, and conversations about what to expect in the future, making early detection of dementias such as Alzheimer's disease imperative.
Two new studies at Bruyère are developing techniques for early detection of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairment.
As Alzheimer's develops in the early stages, circuits in the brain start to become damaged, leading to subtle changes in the electrical pattern. In one study, an EEG cap picks up electrical activity in the brain each time a person blinks, potentially allowing researchers to tell if changes are happening in the brain much earlier than a memory test. By following participants over the course of the next two years, the team hopes to understand the patterns that predict the risk of cognitive decline.
“We need tools that are sensitive to early changes in the brain,” said Dr. Andrew Frank, cognitive neurologist and investigator at the Bruyère Memory Program. “Given the emerging clinical trial research around potential treatments such as Donanemab that appear to offer the most benefit in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, having ways to test and diagnose as early as possible is critical for identifying who might benefit most from available interventions.”
A second study at the Bruyère Memory Program combines existing work on eye-tracking and speech processing to identify mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease. While looking at a picture, participants are asked to describe the scene while their eye movements are measured.
“We start to see how someone with mild cognitive impairment differs in their eye movement and in their speech patterns from someone who is healthy,” explained Dr. Frank Knoefel, Bruyère Chair in Primary Health Care Dementia Research and principal investigator on the study. “Having two tasks combined this way is more sensitive than a standard cognitive test or than either of these assessments on their own.”
The team is also exploring whether these tasks and assessments can be performed with a standard computer webcam, rather than the specialized equipment that is typically used for eye-tracking.
“That’s a truly novel part of this work,” said Dr. Neil Thomas, cognitive neurologist and co-investigator. “If we can develop tests that can be measured through a webcam, it becomes significantly more accessible for assessing patients who may not be near a medical center. They could potentially be assessed from the comfort of their own home.”
Want to be a part of this research? The Bruyère Memory Program and the Clinical Trials Research Unit are seeking healthy adult controls. Learn more at www.bruyere.org/en/participate or call 613-562-6328.
These projects are funded by the Government of Canada and conducted in partnership with the National Research Council.