by Rebecca Sienel
Nowadays, more and more people are diagnosed with dementia due to our ageing society. This disease causes a gradual impairment of cognitive functions such as memory loss and mobility decline. Estimations of the WHO state that around 50 million individuals have dementia worldwide, and 10 million new cases arise every year. The most common form of dementia that accounts for 60-70% of the cases is Alzheimer’s disease (A.D.). In this case, deposits in the brain slowly destroy memory and thinking skills that eventually disable people to carry out simple tasks. It ranges from mild stages when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning to the most severe stage when the person must depend entirely on the help of others for their daily basic activities. It is a devastating burden not only for the patient but also for their loved ones. As it is such a complex disease with still many open questions for scientists, Alzheimer cannot be prevented. However, research and modern digital technologies might offer some solutions for early detection and provide daily live management options.
Early AD diagnosis is a key to retaining independence.
Neurons (functional units of the brain) are already beyond repair when a diagnosis is made. That’s why researchers are trying to find biomarkers (a characteristic that indicates a biological process) that can be linked to A.D. in a very early stage. The retina, for instance, could be a promising biomarker for early diagnosis of A.D. as it turns out the retina roughness can be used as a sign for the disease stage. Another highly studied approach is wearable technology to remotely investigate the long-term cognitive performance to spot early signs of A.D. Therefore, last year Biogen and Apple teamed up to conduct a perennial project. Meanwhile, the university college London and Deutsche Telekom introduced an online game (Sea Hero Quest) that targets the loss of navigational skills that are the first signs of A.D.
Picture Source: https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/research/for-researchers/resources-and-information/sea-hero-quest/
Additionally, artificial intelligence (A.I.) is used to deal with the very complex data generated by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allowing insights into neuron activities within the brain.
Treatment options for A.D. diagnosed people are still limited, but there is hope.
Music seemed to impact A.D. Listening and singing songs improves cognition significantly. However, the rise of self-esteem and spirit was far more critical through music. Besides, already several drugs have been approved to help manage symptoms in A.D.
However, last year a huge step was made by the approval of a drug that, for the first time, targets the deposits in the brain. Today, unfortunately, there are many controversies regarding this drug’s efficiency and side effects. What dampens the great hope to finally have a prescription that fights the cause of the disease.
Nevertheless, there are other futuristic approaches to treat A.D. For example, Curiosity is working to regain targeted cognitive and motor functions through virtual reality. This makes use of the brain’s ability to adapt structurally to new stimuli or requirements through new neuronal connections. This therapy system shows promising results in rehabilitation, especially in pain management and stroke patients. In addition, VR-based therapies can induce reorganization and promote activation of various neural connections over a wide range that could be a possible option for A.D patients to rewire their brains.
Still, we don’t fully understand the disease, and there is no cure so far. However, digital sensors and assistants such as Amazon Alexa, robots, or specialized senior living villages will ensure that individuals suffering from the disease maintain their independence much better than before. Meanwhile, A.I. and researchers will shed light on understanding Alzheimer’s.
 Jáñez-García, L., Bachtoula, O., Salobrar-García, E. et al. Roughness of retinal layers in Alzheimer’s disease. Sci Rep 11, 11804 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91097-3
 Harshit Parmar, Brian Nutter, Rodney Long, Sameer Antani, Sunanda Mitra, „Spatiotemporal feature extraction and classification of Alzheimer’s disease using deep learning 3D-CNN for fMRI data,“ J. Med. Imag. 7(5) 056001 (27 October 2020) https://doi.org/10.1117/1.JMI.7.5.056001
 Fang R, Ye S, Huangfu J, Calimag DP. Music therapy is a potential intervention for cognition of Alzheimer’s Disease: a mini-review. Transl Neurodegener. 2017;6:2. Published 2017 Jan 25. doi:10.1186/s40035-017-0073-9