Artificial Intelligence system slash time taken to diagnose dementia, researchers say

Currently it takes several brain scans to properly diagnose dementia. Credit: PA

Dementia diagnoses could be massively sped up with the implementation of an artificial-intelligence system researchers believe can identify the illness after just one brain scan.

Currently, it can take several brain scans to definitively diagnose someone with dementia meaning the whole process can take months delaying treatment and leading to periods of uncertainty for the patient and their doctors.

More than 850,000 people in the UK are thought to have dementia, according to the NHS, with the condition affecting one in 14 people over the age of 65, and one in six people aged over 80.

The people behind the research said being able to intervene earlier could help with efforts to slow the disease’s progression and ensure patients have more information on their situation at an earlier stage.

More than 850,000 people in the UK are thought to have dementia Credit: PA

Some 500 patients are expected to take part in the first year of the trial at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and other memory clinics across the country.

The system works by comparing brain scans of people who suspect they might have dementia with those who have already been diagnosed.

An algorithm is used to detect patterns in the scans that expert neurologists cannot identify.

The research is being led by Zoe Kourtzi, professor of cognitive computational neuroscience at the Alan Turing Institute and professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has said predictions from 2014 estimated that one million people here will have dementia by 2025, doubling to two million by 2050.

Dr Laura Phipps, from the charity, said this latest work could help doctors have more confidence when looking at scans and diagnosing patients.

She said: “To diagnose dementia today, doctors need to rely on the interpretation of brain scans and cognitive tests, often over a period of time.

“Machine learning models such as those being developed by Prof Kourtzi could give doctors greater confidence in interpreting scans, leading to a more accurate diagnosis for patients.

“We hope that, in future, such approaches will not only improve how current diagnostic techniques are implemented but open the door to revolutionary new approaches to detect the diseases that cause dementia much earlier. This would have a huge impact on people with dementia and their families.”

She said Prof Kourtzi is also leading a project funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK which combines digital data from apps and wearable items including sleep, cognition, fine motor skills and brain activity to predict diseases like Alzheimer’s up to 20 years earlier.