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Trials detect dementia in early stages

Denis Clarke with his wife Penelope
Denis Clarke with his wife Penelope Image credit: bbc.co.uk

A new trial is being rolled out by scientists which could see people being diagnosed with dementia just from one brain scan.

The illness can currently take a series of scans until the condition is picked up.

Using an artificial-intelligence system dementia may not only be detected quicker but it could determine how soon the patient will need treatment depending on how progressive the condition is.

Prof Zoe Kourtzi, of Cambridge University and a fellow of national centre for AI and data science The Alan Turing Institute told the BBC: "If we intervene early, the treatments can kick in early and slow down the progression of the disease and at the same time avoid more damage.

"And it's likely that symptoms occur much later in life or may never occur."

The new method compares brain scans of patients who suspect they may have early-stage dementia against thousands of scans from those already diagnosed with the illness and their medical records.

Patterns are identified from the algorithm and matched to patient outcomes in its database.

Early tests carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital have been successful detecting early signs of dementia years before the patient starts showing any form of symptoms.

Over the next twelve months around 500 people are expected to sign up to the trial.

One of the first patients to participate is Denis Clarke, 75, (pictured about with his wife Penelope) who retired from his job working for a meat company five years ago.

During the past year Denis has showed signs of memory loss which has caused concern from his wife Penelope.

The couple are worried they may need to sell their home to pay for Denis’s care.

Taking part in the trial means they won’t need to wait too long until they can make plans for the future.

"We could then plan financially," Penelope said.

"We would know whether as a couple we could have a few holidays before things get so bad that I can't take Denis on holiday."

Consultant neurologist Dr Tim Rittman, who is leading the study, said: "These set of diseases are really devastating for people.

"So when I am delivering this information to a patient, anything I can do to be more confident about the diagnosis, to give them more information about the likely progression of the disease to help them plan their lives is a great thing to be able to do."

For more information and advice on dementia visit the Dementia UK website.