New AI-Based Tool Can Detect Early Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Researchers from the University of Sheffield have developed a new AI-based tool that can help doctors assess the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The tool, called CognoSpeak, uses AI and speech technology to analyze speech patterns and language to detect whether individuals require further medical investigation.

The tool is as accurate as pen-and-paper medical assessments at predicting Alzheimer’s and is currently undergoing more clinical trials across the UK.

The benefits of such a tool may prove invaluable. Not only can it facilitate early diagnosis, but it can free up valuable specialist time and improve access to healthcare.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that involves a loss of thinking ability, memory, logical reasoning, and other mental faculties, which results in severely impaired normal functioning. Between 5% and 8% of adults over the age of 65 have some form of dementia, and the percentage doubles every five years after 65.

Dementia is typically caused when the parts of a person’s brain used for language, memory, and decision-making become diseased or damaged. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — approximately 60% to 80% of people with dementia also have Alzheimer’s. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but symptoms of dementia can be treated in various ways.

The Seven Phases of Dementia

While every individual has their own unique experience of dementia, there are typically seven stages of symptoms. These include:

  • Stage 1: No cognitive impairment: This stage might sound funny, because everything seems to be functioning normally. However, even while a person may function normally externally, this is the stage when changes in the brain start to happen.
  • Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline: At this stage, a person might make seemingly innocuous memory errors, such as wondering where they put their keys or forgetting someone’s name. Since many seniors experience increasing forgetfulness as they get older, even medical professionals may chalk up this forgetfulness to simple aging, not realizing that this stage is part of the dementia process.
  • Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline: At this stage, forgetfulness becomes more common and more noticeable to family and caregivers, but it doesn’t yet impact the ability to function normally. However, this stage is an important milestone as it precipitates the onset of more severe symptoms.
  • Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline: At this point, cognitive impairment becomes more pronounced, including language and problem-solving difficulties. Also, the personality starts to change. Most people aren’t diagnosed with dementia before Stage 4. Symptoms at this stage include social withdrawal, moodiness, trouble performing routine tasks, and denial of symptoms.
  • Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline: Many professionals refer to this as “mid-stage” dementia, because at this point, the person ceases to be able to perform normal daily activities like bathing and dressing. They may also forget loved ones’ names or basic facts like their address. This stage typically lasts between two and four years.
  • Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline: By this stage, the person needs a caregiver to help them perform basic daily activities like eating, going to the bathroom, bathing, etc. Aggression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and trouble recognizing loved ones are common symptoms.
  • Stage 7: Very severe cognitive decline: At this stage, people can no longer care for themselves and full-time caregiving is necessary. They lose verbal and motor abilities and may even have problems chewing, swallowing, and breathing.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s (yet), early diagnosis can help people live meaningful and productive lives. Benefits of early diagnosis include:

  • People who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s early can participate in clinical trials, and not only improve their own circumstances but advance global research.
  • It helps people get early treatments, which are most effective in the early stages of the disease.
  • People (and their families) understand the symptoms they’re living with and know what to expect.
  • It also allows them to become actively involved in their decisions regarding their future healthcare.
  • Early diagnosis allows people to take advantage of resources from medical and non-profit organizations.

Almost Double by 2040

Tools that enable early diagnosis are crucial for a growing number of people. In the UK, approximately 900,000 people have dementia, and this number is projected to almost double by 2040.

CognoSpeak, the new AI-based diagnostic tool, is a non-invasive way to facilitate early diagnosis. People can take the test in the comfort of their own homes, and if the result is positive, can embark on a treatment journey and reap the benefits of early diagnosis.