How digital tools and tech entrepreneurs are revolutionising Alzheimer's care

Posted under Blog on August 14th, 2014 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Digital technology is all around us. Smartphones, tablet computers and music devices are now commonplace in many countries, but how are digital innovations being exploited in the healthcare arena?

Hospital doctors have been early adopters of the revolutionary Google Glass, using the device not only to check patients’ records during consultations and treatment, but also in the course of surgery. The technology streams footage of operations wirelessly to surgeons in different locations who can oversee and guide the procedure.

Now, attention is turning to how new technology could help people living with Alzheimer’s.

Excitement surrounds the release of wearable cameras, such as the Autographer, which uses a number of sensors to determine the perfect time to capture a shot. But the prospect of being able to snap beautiful sunsets or exhilarating sporting moments with ease isn’t all that’s getting people talking. 

A 2007 study by Microsoft Research showed that an individual with memory impairment who viewed images taken automatically throughout the day by a wearable camera could recall 80% of the information about events they had experienced. They even retained memories three months after they last looked at the photos. This suggests that pictures that make up an autobiographical report of a person’s life not only help with short-term memory (beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s, whose forgetfulness can cause daily frustration and upset), but may also play some role in improving memory on the whole.

Furthermore, such devices could help carers to monitor their loved ones’ daily experiences more accurately. Should someone with Alzheimer’s go missing, for example, a wearable camera could transmit photos to an app on a carer’s phone to determine the person’s whereabouts – a potentially life-saving measure.

Even teenage entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the potential of digital technology to solve healthcare problems. Kenneth Shinozuka, a 15-year-old whose grandfather has Alzheimer’s, has invented a device to alert carers when their relatives get out of bed during the night. Unsupervised night-time wandering can cause confusion and distress for people with Alzheimer’s, and lead to accidents such as falls. Shinozuka’s invention incorporates a very thin pressure sensor attached to the heel, which links back to a smartphone app when pressure is detected. It sets off an alarm for the carer when their relative gets out of bed.

Within the ever-advancing sphere of digital technology lie incredibly exciting and promising possibilities that could revolutionise the lives of people with all kinds of cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s.

Tags: Alzheimer's, Autograoher, digital technology, Google Glass, pressure sensor, wearable camera

Eye test could be early-warning system for Alzheimer’s

Posted under Blog on July 24th, 2014 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Scientists are hopeful that an eye test could hold the key to detecting Alzheimer’s up to 20 years ahead of normal clinical diagnoses.

An Australian team, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is one of four research groups to focus on the eye to identify possible biomarkers of the condition.

This approach is based on the understanding that beta-amyloid plaques form not only in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, but also in the retinas of their eyes. The eye test developed by the Australian team uses a substance containing curcumin, a brightly-coloured spice, to bind to the plaques, turning them fluorescent so they can be seen.

Every participant in the Australian study who had Alzheimer’s tested positive, while the test led to false positive results in one-fifth of those without Alzheimer’s.

Many Alzheimer’s trials fail; the failure rate is as high as 99% according to one study. Many believe this is because diagnosis happens too late for treatments to be effective.

The hope is that eye tests, and related smell-based techniques , will allow earlier diagnosis. The key benefits would include identifying people to take part in clinical trials at an early stage, when new treatments may stand a better chance of slowing or even stopping the onset of the disease.

Tags: Alzheimer's, biomarker, eye test, smell test

Brain-training website opens up its data banks to researchers

Posted under Blog on July 4th, 2014 by Editorial Team / No Comments

As more and more of us turn to the internet to engage in ‘brain training’ activities, from Sudoku to Rubik’s Cube puzzles, one online gaming arena is utilising the information generated from users’ activities to help further the study of the functioning of the brain.

Luminosity, which went live in 2007, contains games such as Memory Matrix, asking users to recall a pattern of tiles, and Waiter, which requires players to remember the names and orders of a succession of customers. Games are designed to test a variety of cognitive skills – speed, memory, attention, problem solving, and flexibility – and, over time, improve users’ mental functions.

The technology assesses individuals before they begin their training with a ‘fit test’, and uses their performance in various games to measure how their ability progresses over time.

Now, the company is allowing any interested academic researchers access to its data, in order that its wealth of player information might help support and direct study of how the brain works.

More than 50 million people use Luminosity, meaning there is a vast pool of results to analyse. There’s no way of ensuring that the details entered by users are correct – for example, many of us enter different dates of birth when signing up to online resources, or are reluctant to give out information about our geographical location. But scientists are hopeful that insightful patterns may come to light through analysis of users’ performance, offering more of an understanding into how the brain works, and how specific cognitive function games might stave off, or ameliorate, the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s. 

Try your hand at playing Luminosity’s games here:

Tags: Alzheimer's, brain training, cognitive function, Luminosity, memory, problem-solving, research



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