New Amazing Alzheimer’s Diagnostic Tools and Treatments 

For decades, researchers and biotech companies have struggled to develop diagnostic tools and treatments for Alzheimer’s, a disorder that causes loss of memory and other mental functions and affects nearly 6.5 million Americans. 

Now they’re slowly making progress. A drug called lecanemab was approved this year that can slow the disease’s progression, sparking renewed optimism for the field. Companies are also developing new types of diagnostic tools and treatments. 

In the past few months, some fascinating new breakthroughs for diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s have come to light. Below are some of the ones that I found to be the most incredible: 

Alzheimer’s Diagnostic Tools 

  • ear-EEG to Diagnose Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s 

Serious neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are usually diagnosed too late for optimal benefit from available drug and non-drug treatments. A new research project will develop and test a scalable home health care technology, called the ear-EEG device, that could have a major impact on early detection, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of both diseases. 

The ear-EEG device is very similar to a pair of earphones. The ear-EEG technology reads the brain’s electrical activity and maps sleep patterns. Recent research shows that a person’s sleep patterns can indicate early signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, making the device a possible diagnostic tool for both diseases. 

This specially developed measuring device will be tested on patient groups both with and without Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The aim is to examine whether it is possible to use the technology to screen patients for the two serious brain diseases. Read more about the ear-EEG device and studies related to it here. 

  • Artificial Intelligence and Eye Movements (the Cognitus Method) to Detect Alzheimer’s 

The Cognitus Method for the detection of Alzheimer’s involves analysis of the retina using an algorithm and an ocular device that identifies patterns of Alzheimer’s before it develops. 

“The eyes are the clearest path to the brain,” explain the neuroscience experts behind the project. The theory is that by tracking eye movements, Cognitus can quickly access the state of brain health to diagnose and monitor Alzheimer’s disease. 

The research team, made up of experts in neuroscience, ophthalmology, and artificial intelligence, has been working to identify specific eye patterns that could diagnose up to 89 factors potentially responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s. Read more here. 

  • AI Tech May Help Spot Subtle Speech Changes in Early Alzheimer’s 

AI technologies that can detect changes in a person’s voice may help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms begin. In a new study, researchers used AI machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) tools to assess speech patterns of 206 people. Of those, 114 participants met the criteria for mild cognitive decline.  

“Our focus was on identifying subtle language and audio changes that are present in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but not easily recognizable by family members or an individual’s primary care physician,” said lead researcher Dr. Ihab Hajjar, a professor of neurology at UT Southwestern Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute in Dallas.  

Prior to the development of machine learning and NLP, the detailed study of speech patterns in patients was labor intensive and often not successful because changes in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are mostly undetectable to the human ear. According to Hajjar, “(t)his novel method of testing performed well in detecting those with mild cognitive impairment and more specifically in identifying patients with evidence of Alzheimer’s disease — even when it cannot be easily detected using standard cognitive assessments.” 

Study findings were recently published in the Alzheimer’s Association publication Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring. 

Alzheimer’s Treatments 

  • Flickering Light to Treat Alzheimer’s 

Cognito Therapeutics is testing whether a specific frequency of light and sound, delivered via a special headset, can slow Alzheimer’s disease in patients by stimulating their brains. The company raised $73 million from investors to evaluate its technology in about 500 people with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease. 

Cognito’s headset is based on research by MIT neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai, who cofounded the company with MIT neurotechnology professor Ed Boyden. At MIT, Tsai and her team found that mice exposed to flickering LED lights and sound delivered at a specific frequency increased the power and synchrony of gamma waves across the brain, resulting in improved memory and lower amounts of amyloid in their brains, findings that suggested the device could help with Alzheimer’s. This treatment appears to work by inducing brain waves known as gamma oscillations, which the researchers discovered help the brain suppress beta amyloid production and invigorate cells responsible for destroying the plaques. 

In a TED Talk, Tsai explained that “(t)he effect reaches key parts of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, where we do planning and reasoning, and the hippocampus, where we create memories.”  

Researchers will evaluate whether Cognito’s headset can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease based on results from commonly used tests that assess cognitive impairment and the ability to perform everyday tasks.   

  • Scent-based workshops are helping people with dementia tap into memories 

Smell loss has long been associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In fact, a diminished sense of smell impacts about nine out of 10 people living with Alzheimer’s. Because of this prevalence, researchers from McGill University suggest that loss of smell could be useful in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. While it is common, this Alzheimer’s-linked smell loss is usually not total. That could be good news for people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, because recent research on memory processing shows that, at least for some people, sense of smell may have the power to elicit or reinvigorate memory.  

An interesting link researchers have found between Alzheimer’s and an ability to smell is that smell can be an effective means to evoke autobiographical memories for people living with Alzheimer’s. For example, a 2019 study looked at odor exposure on the retrieval of recent and remote memories in Alzheimer’s and found that study participants with Alzheimer’s who were exposed to certain scents were better able to retrieve memories than participants with Alzheimer’s who weren’t exposed to any scents. 

So, researchers say, it’s possible to tap into what’s left of a person’s sense of smell to connect with memories and emotions of past experiences.  In other words, scent can be used to enhance the quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s by reinvigorating memories! 

This video shows some of the smell test research taking place on people with Alzheimer’s. 

We are excited to see all of these new Alzheimer’s developments. We will certainly keep our readers up-to-date on these and other exciting diagnostic tools and treatments as they arise! 

  • Virtual Reality Can Trigger Old Memories and Even Reduce Loneliness 

A study from the University of Kent in the UK found that virtual reality could help people with dementia recall old memories. The study found that exposing people with Alzheimer’s to virtual reality could trigger certain memories they once lost or help them recall specific senses, such as the sound of a family member’s voice.  

“That sort of reminiscence, it doesn’t necessarily reverse dementia, but it can certainly slow the progression,” stated Allison Sekuler, vice president of research at Baycrest Health Sciences.  

Virtual reality could also help connect people to their loved ones, even when they can’t be in the same room. A technology company called MyndVR, for instance, lets older adults share their virtual reality screens with friends or family around the world. 

Planning for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s 

Do you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we help protect a family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If your family is facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation: 

Northern Virginia Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888 
Fredericksburg, Virginia Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435 
Rockville, MD Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041 
Annapolis, MD Medicaid Planning: 410-216-0703 
Washington, DC Medicaid Planning: 202-587-2797 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.