A team at the University of Cambridge have revealed a technique for detecting Alzheimer’s which is better than the tests currently used by doctors, according to new research.
The technique includes a navigation test in virtual reality, which askes patients to ‘walk around’ a simulated environment.
A VR headset was used to immerse 45 patients in in the environment, and monitored for their ability to navigate and internally map the virtual world.
The team, which collaborated with University College London, were advancing research by one of their professors, John O’Keefe’s Nobel Prize winning discovery of the brain’s “navigation system”, the entorhinal cortex responsible for navigation.
The results, published in Brain journal, reveal that the 12 test subjects who were least able to navigate the virtual reality world also had the traditional signs of underlying risk of Alzheimer’s.
Clinical trials suggest the new method is 90 per cent accurate, a stark increase on the current tests which are accurate 50 per cent of the time.
Lead researcher Dr Dennis Chan said: “We know that Alzheimer’s affects the brain long before symptoms become apparent.
“We’ve wanted to do this for years, but it’s only now that VR technology has evolved to the point that we can readily undertake this research in patients.”
Dr. Chan is now working with Professor Cecilia Mascolo at Cambridge’s Centre for Mobile, Wearable Systems and Augmented Intelligence to apps for smartphones and smartwatches which could detect and monitor the disease.
“We’re getting to the point where every day tech can be used to spot the warning signs of the disease well before we become aware of them,” he added.
“We live in a world where mobile devices are almost ubiquitous, and so app-based approaches have the potential to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at minimal extra cost and at a scale way beyond that of brain scanning and other current diagnostic approaches.”