A two-minute brain test could diagnose Alzheimer's five years sooner, leading to early treatment to stave off dementia, scientists hope.
Researchers at Bath University have developed a cap that contains electrodes and can measure people's brain waves in response to a series of flashing images on a computer screen.
The technique picks up small, subtle changes in the brain which occur when a person remembers an image and detects early problems with memory.
Dr George Stothart, the lead researcher and a cognitive neuroscientist, said: “It offers a genuinely novel way of measuring how our brain is functioning.
“The person being assessed doesn't need to understand the test, or even respond. They simply watch a screen of flashing images and by the way we manipulate the images that appear we can learn an enormous amount about what their brain is, or is not, able to do.”
It is currently difficult to diagnose Alzheimer’s, requiring a number of cognitive tests that are often open to interpretation and prone to assessment anxiety.
The tests also require verbal and written communication abilities, which make them ineffective for certain people, and scientists believe that they can miss the first 20 years of the disease.
But by knowing more about people’s disease at an earlier stage, drugs can be prescribed when they may be more effective, such as the recently approved Aducanumab, the first disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifestyle interventions can also be implemented to help slow disease progression. Current diagnosis for Alzheimer’s typically occurs late in the progression of the disease. “We are missing huge opportunities to help people,” said Dr Stothart.
“We are testing the tool in earlier and earlier stages of Alzheimer's and expanding the type of not only understanding Alzheimer's but also the many other less common forms of dementia.
“Ultimately, the holy grail of a tool like this would be a dementia screening tool used in middle age for everyone, regardless of symptoms, in the same way we test for high blood pressure.”
The test - called Fastball EEG - is now being used in a study of the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.
A paper showing the effectiveness of the test was published in the journal Brain.