Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have developed a portable device that might quickly detect the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.
The device 'DETECT' was created by David Wright, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and co-director of the Emory Emergency Medicine Research Centre, and team.
The new invention may allow patients to take a brief, inexpensive test that could be administered as part of a routine yearly check-up at a doctor's office to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI), often the earliest stage of Alzheimer's.
"Families usually wait until their mom or dad does something somewhat dangerous, like forgetting to take their medications or getting lost, before bringing them in for testing. At that point, the patient has already lost a significant portion of their cognitive function," Wright said.
"With this device, we might be able to pick up impairment well before those serious symptoms occur and start patients on medications that could delay those symptoms," he added.
The device gives individuals a roughly ten-minute test designed to gauge reaction time and memory, functions that, when impaired, are associated with the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The test is a specially modified, shortened version of the traditional pen and paper test and could be given repeatedly by doctors to evaluate any changes in cognitive functions.
Michelle LaPlaca, Ph.D., one of the creators of the device and an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University said: "We really envision this to be part of the normal preventative care a patient receives from a general practitioner. It would be part of a regular preventative medicine exam much like a PSA test or EKG (electrocardiogram), serving as a cognitive impairment vital sign of sorts."
The DETECT system includes an LCD display in a visor with an onboard dedicated computer, noise reduction headphones and an input device (controller). The display projects the visual aspect of the test and the headphones provide the verbal instructions.
The portable test runs patients through a battery of visual and auditory stimuli such as pictures and words that assess cognitive abilities relative to age, gauging reaction time and memory capabilities. Its software can track cognitive capabilities — and decline — year to year during annual appointments. And because the device blocks outside sound and light from the patient's environment, it can be administered in virtually any setting, providing more consistent results.
The device is expected to be commercialised later this year.