Your smartphone could be key to early dementia diagnosis

An app that records users’ speech while they complete various cognitive tests could be just as effective as in-clinic evaluations in detecting frontotemporal dementia. — Image by freepik

A groundbreaking study has found cognitive tests performed through a smartphone app could be just as effective as in-clinic evaluations in detecting frontotemporal dementia, a neurological disorder that typically strikes in midlife and affects critical cognitive skills such as planning, prioritising tasks and impulse control.

Led by Adam Boxer, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, the study involved collaboration with the United States-based software company Datacubed Health, the Guardian reported.

Together, they developed an app that records users’ speech while they complete various cognitive tests, including assessments of walking, balance and language skills.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open involved 360 adults at high genetic risk of developing frontotemporal dementia. The results showed that the app not only accurately detected dementia in these individuals but potentially was more sensitive to the earliest stages of the condition compared to traditional in-clinic evaluations.

Frontotemporal dementia can be challenging to diagnose early on, because its symptoms are often confused with those of psychiatric disorders, Boxer told the Guardian.

However, the researchers concluded the app shows promise for use in dementia clinical trials thanks to its ease of use and validity in remotely assessing cognitive function.

Although the app is not yet available to the public, researchers are excited about its potential to revolutionise the study and treatment of frontotemporal dementia. With more than 30 clinical trials currently underway or in the works, this app could be a game-changer, making it easier and more convenient for patients to participate in research and receive cutting-edge treatments.

According to study co-author Adam Staffaroni, frequent in-person assessments can be burdensome for patients, caregivers and clinicians. “We hope that smartphone assessments will facilitate new trials of promising therapies,” he told the Guardian. “Eventually, the app may be used to monitor treatment effects, replacing many or most in-person visits to clinical trials’ sites.”

As research progresses, this smartphone app might be the key to earlier detection and better outcomes for people with frontotemporal dementia. – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Tribune News Service

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