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Brain games and AI help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

New research shows for the first time that older adults who play computer-based brain training games can cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and cognitive loss even years later. If the research is scalable, this would be the first intervention, including drugs, diet, and exercise, with these results.

Researchers presented the results of the study at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto. The study is from the US government-funded ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) study, which has been going on for nearly two decades and is tracking almost 3,000 healthy older adults. In the study, the older adults (the average age at the time they started the study is 74) received one of three forms of cognitive training or none. The control group, who received no training, had 14 percent of its participants with a diagnosis of dementia ten years later. In the group that completed up to 10 sessions of computer-based training lasting 60-75 minutes, 12.1 percent developed dementia during that time period. The training tested how quickly and accurately participants could pay attention to, process, and remember brief images on a computer screen. Of those who completed all 10 initial training sessions as well as four booster sessions a few years later, 8.2 percent developed dementia.

In related news, researchers out of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam recently published research showing that applying artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to MRI brain scans may help physicians automatically distinguish between patients with Alzheimer’s disease and two early forms of dementia that can be precursors to the disease. The research suggests that this approach could eventually allow automated screening and assisted diagnosis of various forms of dementia.

Analysis: More than 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. By 2050, rates of the disease could nearly triple if left unchecked. After decades of research, however, scientists are coming up with significant breakthroughs that treat the disease – not just the symptoms. As new drugs make their way through the pipeline, the health care community is also working to improve early diagnosis.

The National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center’s database shows that the median time between the initial onset of symptoms and a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is 4.5 years. Many researchers believe that early intervention is critical to halting the effects of the disease, potentially improving the lives of millions of patients and their families. The Alzheimer’s Readiness Project, an initiative of Eli Lilly and Company, outlines five policy recommendations necessary to reach the goal of early diagnosis and treatment:

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Sources:
National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, 2016; Alzheimer’s Readiness Project, Eli Lilly and Company, 2016

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Author bio

Doug leads Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice. With 24 years of experience, he works closely with multiple top health care organizations on major clinical and enterprise transformation efforts and on large-scale technology implementation projects. Doug has extensive experience in comprehensive quality and patient safety transformations, turnaround and performance improvement in academic medical centers as well as organization/workflow redesign and technology enablement. He has served as the lead on a number of enterprise transformation initiatives with some of Deloitte’s most largest and most complex clients.