As people age, they are often at a greater risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. These diseases affect the patient, as well as their family and caregivers who are helping them, so it's important to get a diagnosis on these types of issues as early as possible. An article recently published in eLife has found that it may be possible to detect age-related neurodegenerative disease by looking for weak brain waves.
A Potential New Way of Detecting Alzheimer's Disease Early
It's possible that weakened brain signals could be an early warning sign. If this is the case, it means that there could be some new, effective ways of identifying patients that might have an age-related brand disease. Currently, the means and methods used for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease are limited. Dinavahi, the first author of the study, says that there is a "need to develop a reliable, non-invasive test that would enable early diagnosis. Dinavahi was a Ph.D. Research Scholar at the Centre for Neuroscience, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India, when the study was conducted.
The researchers looked into previous studies that used mice who had a condition that was similar to Alzheimer's disease. The results of those studies found that one of the early signs of the disease could be weakened brain waves. Dinavahi and the other researchers developed a community-based study based on the findings with the mice.
The researchers used information from 250 elderly patients. They looked at the gamma wave activity that was taking place in the brains of 12 individuals who had been diagnosed as having mild cognitive impairment, as well as five people with Alzheimer's disease. They also looked at the healthy patients to compare.
To measure the activity, the researchers used electroencephalography (EEG). This allowed them to measure the activity in real-time while the patients were viewing the patterns on a screen. The patterns they used help to cause gamma oscillations in the area of the brain that's used for processing visual information. The researchers also watched the eye movements of the patients during the tests.
The researchers found that the patients that had already been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease had weaker gamma waves in their brain when compared with their peers. This leads the researchers to believe that if there are weaker waves, patients may be at a greater risk for developing age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Dinavahi said, "We observed reductions in the strength of gamma waves in early stages of age-related cognitive decline. Changes in these electrical signals could provide an early warning sign of an impending disease." Having an earlier diagnosis help people to better prepare for the arrival of the disease as they get older. Having this information early will allow them to start treatments early and to have plans in place for their care later in life.
Supratim Ray, senior author of the study and Associate Professor at the Centre for Neuroscience, IISc, said that "Our work provides a low-cost and non-invasive way to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease. This could be useful for clinicians and scientists studying early changes that take place in the brain during age-related neurodegenerative diseases, and potentially lead to new ways to diagnose and treat these conditions."
Early Diagnosis Could Help Countless People
Suddenly discovering that you or a loved one has a neurodegenerative disease is frightening, particularly when it wasn't expected. However, the use of affordable and non-invasive tools like EEG could help people to get more control over what happens with their treatment and how they are cared for.