Early and Differential Diagnosis of Dementia

Dementia is no longer an acceptable side effect of growing old. There are around 800,000 people with dementia just in the UK and approximately 36 million across the world. This costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, and a staggering US$604 billion/year globally (1% of the world's GDP). By 2040, the number of people affected by dementia is expected to double - and the costs are likely to treble. Dementia has tremendous impacts upon the person living with the condition, affecting their independence, quality of life and personal dignity. Beyond this, dementia places huge burdens upon families and caregivers.

Currently the diagnosis of dementia is inadequate when compared to other major diseases such as cancer. More recently, significant advances have been made in the characterisation of dementia from the use of structural and functional neuroimaging as well as cerebrospinal fluid sampling. However, such tests are often only available at specialist clinical and research centres, are expensive, and in some cases are associated with radiation exposure or are invasive. Therefore, the development of reliable and clinically-feasible solutions to deal with it is a pressing need.

Recent research has proven that alternative dementia biomarkers can be found in the features of the brain’s electrical signals measured non-invasively with electroencephalography (EEG). Our pilot experimental work has shown that brain dysfunction and cholinergic loss (one of the key neurotransmitters implicated in cognition and memory) can be identified with EEG. This is typical of neurodegenerative dementias and thus could be used to stratify treatment responses. Moreover, results from our pilot research also demonstrated that the EEG signals can be used to differentiate between dementia subtypes, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).