New Methods for the Early Detection of Dementia
> 6/27/2007 1:36:54 PM

Dementia effects an estimated 24 million lives throughout the world. This widespread disorder is particularly frightening because its creeping onset is difficult to detect. In the early stages, when medical intervention is so crucial, sufferers can often converse normally, fooling loved ones into thinking that nothing is wrong. Objective tests like MRI scans are being developed, but even if these methods prove accurate, they will never work on those who do not come in for evaluation.

However, creative solutions are evolving from some interesting new projects, which are being developed to monitor the elderly in their homes without the need for a doctorís visit. An ongoing experiment by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine is testing whether 600 people over 75 years old can be checked for signs of dementia with computer terminals. These terminals, installed in each subjectís home, give tests of cognitive function in the form of short, daily word and memory games. By staying vigilant for any decline in performance on these games, doctors and families can act quickly to combat dementia. The objective scores make it much easier to distinguish dementia from other symptoms of aging or from the occasional confusion natural for any human.

Going even further in the quest for automated detection, Dr. Jeffrey Kaye is testing out an elaborate system of motion detectors designed to find abnormalities in daily routine. Based on preliminary findings that subjects with mild cognitive impairment had significantly more erratic routines, the motion detectors will report highly variable speeds of walking and any lingering, which might be a sign of confusion. With a $7 million grant from the National Institute of Health, Dr. Kaye is going to test the system in 300 Oregon homes.

These new efforts into studying the onset of dementia will hopefully aide in the development of new criteria and evaulation techniques. It is also possible that through this research we could arrive at a more thorough understanding of the mechanics of neurocognative decline, and that could lead to further experimentation as well as improvement in treatments.

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