This Wednesday is World Alzheimer’s Day. Technology has a huge role to play, whether it’s detecting the disease as quickly as possible or supporting patients.
Detect, support or even treat. The technology shows promise for Alzheimer’s disease. First to screen quickly if possible. Objective: to delay the development of the disease. It is estimated that 50% of patients are not diagnosed, so do not know they are sick. This is where artificial intelligence comes in.
Impressive detection methods
Researchers at Boston University, for example, are working on a tool that would make it possible to detect early signs of the disease very effectively through a simple recording of our voice. Today, the patient is given a battery of tests in the form of questions aimed at evaluating cognitive performance (memory, language, comprehension, etc.). It’s tedious and time-consuming. With this tool, there is no need to go to the doctor, all you have to do is talk in front of your computer or smartphone and the machine will be able to detect cognitive deficiencies on its own and alert you to the fact that you have to go see a doctor. .
Another tool being worked on by the University of Tokyo, published in the scientific journal Aging, is an algorithm capable of finding certain warning signs of dementia via our facial expressions. The machine managed to detect the disease without any other clues. The interest is that they are easy, reliable and inexpensive tools to set up, because all you need is a camera, a smartphone for example. They would make it possible to organize massive screening campaigns. And then there is the analysis of medical images. A final tool, which analyzes brain scans, would even be able to detect the presence of the disease six years before a clinical diagnosis can be established.
Towards a cure for Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a disease that cannot be cured at the moment. But the ambitions are great, in particular thanks to the potential of neural implants. Several electronic chip projects that could be placed directly in the brain to combat neurodegenerative diseases, from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s, but also the loss of cognitive faculties linked to old age, loss of attention. One of the projects is called Kiwi: it is a chip the size of a grain of rice, it weighs two grams. The startup working on it, Ni2o, was founded by an Oxford professor and launched in France, within the brain and spinal cord institute.
This implant is placed on the brain through the nose, and it will restore damaged areas, repair the faulty functions of the brain, via very small electrical impulses. The objective: to reactivate certain neurotransmitters to compensate for the loss of certain cognitive abilities. These pulses will make it possible to reduce or even prevent tremors in the case of Parkinson’s or memory loss in the case of Alzheimer’s. But be careful, do not create false hopes before the hour: all this is still in the domain of the prototype.
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Soft toy robots to soothe patients
While waiting for all this to develop, we must do our best to support patients on a daily basis. In these cases, robots can help. In particular “robots-plush” which look like large stuffed animals but which are in reality robots for therapeutic purposes. The baby seal Paro, stuffed with sensors, responds to touch, light, sound. It recognizes when called by its name, it moves, reacts when petted, and it will try to repeat the same movement to be petted again, just like a pet. Already used in certain hospitals and retirement homes, it has the property of soothing the sick, calming anxieties and irritation.
Qoobo is a ball of hair, without a head but with a tail like a cat’s… A kind of animated cushion, which purrs, which reacts when you stroke it, its heart beats like that of a small pet. In hospitals and retirement homes, it will be used to calm patients’ stress, and it will particularly stimulate patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It is also used to support autistic children.