There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching a loved one succumb to brain disease. Once it starts, it seems that there is little to do to stem the tide of mental decline. The mind slips away. It forgets faces, smiles, and events. Some 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia every year. The number of people with the disease doubles every five years after age 65. By 85, one-third of people suffer from the disease.
Given how close to home the condition hits for people, there is a push to find treatments and cures. What if there was a way to prevent such brain decay? New developments in computing and artificial intelligence may hold the answer.
The Mysteries of Alzheimer’s
Though scientists have studied the disease for the better part of three decades, there are still many things that they don’t understand about Alzheimer’s. There is not even a consensus on what exactly causes the disease. Though, those in the medical field agree that a variety of factors can hint at its development. Brain disorders are a combination of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors. This is especially true for late-onset Alzheimer’s, the most common form of the disease.
When trying to decode the disorder, there is a measurable link between brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s. Brain plaque looks to be the biggest culprit in this case. Immunity defenses attempt to remove blockages but often cause adverse effects. Scientists have struggled to figure out whether or not this speeds the progression of the disease or is a product of it. Research has shown a clear connection between inflammatory activity and worsening dementia and Alzheimer’s. Either way, experts agree that drugs aimed at controlling these symptoms help control many memory problems.
In exploring the mysteries of these conditions, doctors seek to find the safest and most effective treatments. They have conducted trials to measure the potency of drugs that remove plaque buildup in the brain. Doing so vastly reduces the amount of inflammation linked to cognitive disorders. Results look promising. The treatment is not a cure, though. Rather, it slows the progression of the disease and alleviates symptoms.
Alzheimer’s and the Role of AI
Innovations in the world of artificial intelligence have changed the way doctors look at Alzheimer’s. A team of specialists developed an algorithm, driven by AI, that may accurately recognize early signs of brain disorders. Most are hopeful that the technology can catch warning signals two years in advance. Liberal estimates say detection might be possible up to five or even ten years in advance.
Experts claim this can better direct clinical trials when creating drugs to fight Alzheimer’s. By having an at-risk population for testing new treatments, they can effectively measure the benefits of drugs. Subjecting patients to testing without measurable data on their risk factors negates the efficiency of drug trials altogether.
Creating the intelligent algorithm required massive amounts of data. Researchers provided the artificial intelligence with hundreds of MRI and PET scans. Some came from those suffering from Alzheimer’s while others came from healthy patients. The results from the analyses have proven amazing. Doctors noted the algorithm was accurate in recognizing cognitive impairments over 80% of the time. Yet, they are quick to point out the importance of using other methods of diagnosis.
Students at the University of Maryland, College Park used similar algorithms in the development of their own trials. Adapting existing code while adding their own, these students were able to use a portable EEG headset to help diagnose Alzheimer’s. Trials gathered brainwave information from participants for analysis. Having measured brain signals, algorithms collated and processed the data. It compared results against both healthy brain scans and those indicating a cognitive disorder. The results were similar to other trials conducted throughout the medical field. Artificial intelligence accurately predicted Alzheimer’s in patients 80% of the time.
Even more advanced methods for detecting cognitive disorders exist. A company in Toronto developed a unique, precise artificial intelligence. It can determine if a person has Alzheimer’s or even depression in surprising ways. It does so without ever analyzing a brain scan. Instead, algorithms rely on analyzing human speech. The precision of language used can indicate degenerative brain disease. Those who suffer tend to rely on more simplistic language and favor pronouns rather than proper names. They tend to have longer, more frequent pauses when talking, as well.
Algorithms take other factors of human speech into account, too. Variations in amplitude and frequency often indicate conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. These traits are far more difficult to pick out with the human ear. Computers can pinpoint them far more objectively.
Proactive detection is crucial when dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia. By utilizing advancements in artificial intelligence, doctors can effectively treat their patients. Given the ways technology has advanced, the future holds much promise for treating these diseases. their use in the medical field are limitless. Using artificial intelligence in the medical field gives patients a fighting chance. It could mean the difference between years full of happy memories and a painful descent into forgetting. Do you think that AI could change Alzheimer’s diagnosis as we know it? Share your comments, below.