Six things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia

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Challenging and training your brain is important to prevent dementia risk.
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Helen Macpherson, Deakin University

An ageing population is leading to a growing number of people living with dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms including memory impairment, confusion, and loss of ability to carry out everyday activities.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and causes a progressive decline in brain health.

Dementia affects more than 425,000 Australians. It is the second-ranked cause of death overall, and the leading cause in women.

The main risk factor for dementia is older age. Around 30% of people aged over 85 live with dementia. Genetic influences also play a role in the onset of the disease, but these are stronger for rarer types of dementia such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.




Read more:
What causes Alzheimer’s disease? What we know, don’t know and suspect


Although we can’t change our age or genetic profile, there are nevertheless several lifestyle changes we can make that will reduce our dementia risk.

1. Engage in mentally stimulating activities

Education is an important determinant of dementia risk. Having less than ten years of formal education can increase the chances of developing dementia. People who don’t complete any secondary school have the greatest risk.

The good news is that we can still strengthen our brain at any age, through workplace achievement and leisure activities such as reading newspapers, playing card games, or learning a new language or skill.

Even playing cards can strengthen your brain.
Photo by Inês Ferreira on Unsplash

The evidence suggests that group-based training for memory and problem-solving strategies could improve long-term cognitive function. But this evidence can’t be generalised to computerised “brain training” programs. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities in a social setting may also contribute to the success of cognitive training.




Read more:
What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia


2. Maintain social contact

More frequent social contact (such as visiting friends and relatives or talking on the phone) has been linked to lower risk of dementia, while loneliness may increase it.

Greater involvement in group or community activities is associated with a lower risk. Interestingly, size of friendship group appears less relevant than having regular contact with others.

3. Manage weight and heart health

There is a strong link between heart and brain health. High blood pressure and obesity, particularly during mid-life, increase the risk of dementia. Combined, these conditions may contribute to more than 12% of dementia cases.

In an analysis of data from more than 40,000 people, those who had type 2 diabetes were up to twice as likely to develop dementia as healthy people.

Managing or reversing these conditions through the use of medication and/or diet and exercise is crucial to reducing dementia risk.

Exercise is protective for heart health and diabetes, as well as against cognitive decline.
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

4. Get more exercise

Physical activity has been shown to protect against cognitive decline. In data combined from more than 33,000 people, those who were highly physically active had a 38% lower risk of cognitive decline compared with those who were inactive.

Precisely how much exercise is enough to maintain cognition is still under debate. But a recent review of studies looking at the effects of taking exercise for a minimum of four weeks suggested that sessions should last at least 45 minutes and be of moderate to high intensity. This means huffing and puffing and finding it difficult to maintain a conversation.




Read more:
Could too much sitting be bad for our brains?


Australians generally don’t meet the target of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

5. Don’t smoke

Cigarette smoking is harmful to heart health, and the chemicals found in cigarettes trigger inflammation and vascular changes in the brain. They can also trigger oxidative stress, in which chemicals called free radicals can cause damage to our cells. These processes may contribute to the development of dementia.

The good news is that smoking rates in Australia have dropped from 28% to 16% since 2001.

As dementia risk is higher in current smokers compared with past smokers and non-smokers, this provides yet another incentive to quit once and for all.

6. Seek help for depression

Around one million Australian adults are currently living with depression. In depression, some changes occur in the brain that may affect dementia risk. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been linked to shrinkage of brain regions that are important for memory.

High blood pressure can increase the risk of dementia.
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Vascular disease, which causes damage to blood vessels, has also been observed in both depression and dementia. Researchers suggests that long-term oxidative stress and inflammation may also contribute to both conditions.




Read more:
You’ve been diagnosed with depression, now what?


A 28-year study of more than 10,000 people found that dementia risk was only increased in those who had depression in the ten years before diagnosis. One possibility is that late-life depression can reflect an early symptom of dementia.

Other studies have shown that having depression before the age of 60 still increases dementia risk, so seeking treatment for depression is encouraged.

Other things to consider

Reducing dementia risk factors doesn’t guarantee that you will never develop dementia. But it does mean that, at a population level, fewer people will be affected. Recent estimates suggest that up to 35% of all dementia cases may be due to the risk factors outlined above.

This figure also includes management of hearing loss, although the evidence for this is less well established.

The contribution of sleep disturbances and diet to dementia risk are emerging as important, and will likely receive more consideration as the evidence base grows.

The ConversationEven though dementia may be seen as an older person’s disease, harmful processes can occur in the brain for several decades before dementia appears. This means that now is the best time to take action to reduce your risk.

Helen Macpherson, Research Fellow, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Empathetic dogs lend a helping paw

News Release
July 2018 | Heidelberg – Empathetic dogs lend a helping paw

Study shows that dogs that remain calm and show empathy during their owner’s distress help out faster

man wearing black and brown fur hoodie jacket and blue pants holding dog leash beside white short coat dog

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Many dogs show empathy if their owner is in distress and will also try to help rescue them. This is according to Emily M. Sanford, formerly of Macalester College and now at Johns Hopkins University in the US. She is the lead author of a study in Springer’s journal Learning and Behavior that tested whether there is truth in the notion that dogs have a prosocial and empathetic nature. Interesting to note, the study found that dogs specially trained for visitations as therapy dogs are just as likely to help as other dogs.

In one of their experiments, Sanford and her colleagues instructed the owners of 34 dogs to either give distressed cries or to hum while sitting behind a see-through closed door. Sixteen of these dogs were registered therapy dogs. The researchers watched what the dogs did, and also measured their heart rate variability to see how they physically reacted to the situation. In another part of the experiment, the researchers examined how these same dogs gazed at their owners to measure the strength of their relationship.

Dogs that heard distress calls were no more likely to open a door than dogs that heard someone humming. However, they opened the door much faster if their owner was crying. Based on their physiological and behavioural responses, dogs who opened the door were, in fact, less stressed than they were during baseline measurements, indicating that those who could suppress their own distress were the ones who could jump into action.

The study therefore provides evidence that dogs not only feel empathy towards people, but in some cases also act on this empathy. This happens especially when they are able to suppress their own feelings of distress and can focus on those of the human involved. According to Sanford, this is similar to what is seen when children need to help others. They are only able to do so when they can suppress their own feelings of personal distress.

“It appears that adopting another’s emotional state through emotional contagion alone is not sufficient to motivate an empathetic helping response; otherwise, the most stressed dogs could have also opened the door,” explains co-author Julia Meyers-Manor of Ripon College in the US. “The extent of this empathetic response and under what conditions it can be elicited deserve further investigation, especially as it can improve our understanding of the shared evolutionary history of humans and dogs.”

Contrary to expectation, the sixteen therapy dogs in the study performed as well as the other dogs when tested on opening the door. According to Meyers-Manor this may be because registered therapy dogs, despite what people may think, do not possess traits that make them more attentive or responsive to human emotional states. She says that therapy dog certification tests involve skills based more on obedience rather than on human-animal bonding.

“It might be beneficial for therapy organizations to consider more traits important for therapeutic improvement, such as empathy, in their testing protocols,” adds Meyers-Manor. “It would also be interesting to determine whether service dogs show a different pattern of results given their extensive training in attentiveness to their human companions.”

Reference: Sanford, E.M. et al (2018). Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs, Learning & Behavior DOI: 10.3758/s13420-018-0332-3

Getting the temperature just right helps people with dementia stay cool

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There are currently no rules to ensure that aged-care facilities provide a comfortable indoor environment.
University of Wollongong, CC BY-SA

Federico Tartarini, University of Wollongong; Paul Cooper, University of Wollongong, and Richard Fleming, University of Wollongong

Everyone knows how bad it feels when the temperature is uncomfortably hot or cold. For most of us it doesn’t last long as we can take simple steps to get comfortable, such as putting on clothes, opening a window, or switching on a heater.

But what happens when you can’t control the temperature where you live? This problem is faced by many residents of aged care facilities, and can be particularly difficult for those living with dementia. To find out how these residents cope we recently carried out a three-year research project on the effects of indoor environment in aged care facilities in south-eastern NSW. This was part of a broader program of University of Wollongong research on the impact of indoor environment on elderly people.




Read more:
Australia’s aged care residents are very sick, yet the government doesn’t prioritise medical care


Dementia and agitation

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that affect people’s behaviour, thinking, and their ability to communicate and perform everyday tasks. Sometimes people with dementia can become agitated or distressed, which can be disturbing for other people around them. This often happens for no clear reason.

This is a big issue for the aged care sector since approximately half of all residents in aged care facilities have dementia.

While current rules governing the accreditation of aged care facilities in Australia do make reference to the need to provide ‘comfortable internal temperatures and ventilation’ there is no specific reference to what temperature ranges are considered comfortable. We set out to find whether this should be remedied and whether there is a relationship between agitation among residents living with dementia and the indoor temperatures to which they are exposed.

Dr Federico Tartarini (right) led the study that found that indoor temperatures in aged care centres have a dramatic impact on the wellbeing of residents, particularly those living with dementia. Photo: University of Wollongong.
Author supplied, CC BY

Tracking the temperature

Firstly we set up a network of sensors in six aged care facilities to monitor indoor environmental conditions, such as air temperature, humidity, air velocity and noise.

In collaboration with the care staff of one particular facility we then assessed the frequency and intensity of a range of agitated behaviours exhibited by residents living with dementia over the course of a year.

The most important finding of this study was that the frequency and intensity of agitated behaviours of residents with dementia significantly increased when they were exposed to uncomfortable air temperatures.

A statistically significant correlation was found between rates of agitation of residents and their cumulative exposure to temperatures outside their comfort zone of between 20°C and 26°C.

More generally, the data collected from the hundreds of temperature sensors across all our case study facilities over a one-year period showed that some facilities were often uncomfortably hot or cold (below 19°C in winter and over 30°C in summer) for significant periods.

Poorly designed buildings

This was attributable to many different factors including poor thermal design of the buildings and poor control of the heating and cooling systems. Interestingly, our analysis showed staff were significantly less tolerant of variations in indoor temperature than residents, probably because they were generally more active than the residents (i.e. moving around and working), and therefore had higher metabolic rates. They may have also had higher thermal comfort expectations than the residents.

Regulations can help

The evidence appears to suggest that maintaining a comfortable temperature
will reduce the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

There is a clear need for new regulations that ensure aged care facilities provide comfortable indoor environmental conditions, particularly for elderly residents, but also for the staff working in these facilities.

The aged care sector needs good indoor environmental rating tools, built on recent research evidence, to guide the design of their facilities and to audit their operations.

This type of approach has already been successfully applied in the commercial building sector, where mandatory disclosure of the real energy consumption of larger offices, for example, is required of owners wishing to sell or lease their property.




Read more:
Why is it so cold in here? Setting the office thermostat right – for both sexes


The ConversationPublicly available ratings of the actual indoor environment provided to aged care residents and staff would alert architects, managers and staff to the importance of thermal comfort and help elderly people, and their families, make a more informed choice as to the best facility in which to live.

Federico Tartarini, Associate research fellow, University of Wollongong; Paul Cooper, Senior Professor and Director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), University of Wollongong, and Richard Fleming, Professorial Fellow and Executive Director, Dementia Training Australia, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

You’re the voice: the evolution of the PainChek app

News Release
April 2018| Australia – You’re the voice: the evolution of the PainChek app

How can someone tell you they’re experiencing pain or discomfort that isn’t overtly visible, if they can’t communicate through speech? Professor Jeff Hughes from Curtin’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences has created an app that gives a voice to people who are living with conditions that impact upon their ability to verbally communicate with others.

Elderly woman sitting down holding a phone with man sitting behind her.

One of these conditions is dementia, a neurodegenerative condition that affects the brain’s cognitive ability. It’s currently the second leading cause of death in Australia, and with the number of people living with dementia set to reach more than 536,000 by 2025, the demand for tools that help treat and manage the condition is sure to increase.

Professor Hughes’ brainchild was the world’s first smartphone app for pain assessment and monitoring, developed under the banner of Curtin start-up company ePAT (electronic Pain Assessment and Technologies Ltd) from 2014. The start-up was acquired by PainChek Ltd in 2016, and the app is now being further developed and marketed by the company as ‘PainChek’.

The app provides an accurate and reliable means for healthcare professionals and family members providing care at home to assess pain, and ultimately help to improve quality of life for those they care for.

“A significant issue among people with advanced dementia is that they no longer have the communication skills to express the level of pain they are suffering,” Hughes explains.

“The seriousness of their pain can often go unrecognised. But PainChek, a smart-device app, which utilises automation and artificial intelligence, allows for the detection and quantification of pain, based in part on a patient’s facial expressions.

PainChek uses facial recognition and a 42-point pain scale to help healthcare professionals and family members decipher the level of pain being experienced by their patient or family member, allowing them to respond accordingly. A level between zero to six represents no pain, seven to 11 mild pain, 12 to 15 moderate pain and anything above 15 means severe pain.

The tailored pain scale was developed by Hughes and his team through a tireless review of existing literature and tools, including the well-known Abbey Pain Scale, an observational pain assessment tool used nationally in the assessment of pain in people with dementia.

PainChek automates pain assessment, allowing for the continual evaluation of pain, and providing the user with access to a personalised pain chart of their patient or family member, which has been mapped over an extended timeframe. The chart is designed to be used in conjunction with other information recorded on the app, which correlates with or affects pain levels, such as medication types and dosages, activity levels and behaviour. All recorded data is backed up when the device is connected to the internet.

Since its inception in 2013, Hughes and his team have been working hard to assess and monitor the performance of the app. They’ve conducted validation studies with a range of Perth-based aged care providers, including Mercy Care, Juniper, Bethanie and Brightwater, comparing each generation of the app with the Abbey Pain Scale. Data from these trials was used to support the registration of the app as a Class 1 medical device in Australia (Therapeutics Goods Administration registration) and Europe (CE Mark) by PainChek Ltd.

Trials in aged care facilities were successful, validating the functionality and purpose of PainChek. One of the residents living with dementia was previously cared for at home by her husband. He says the app has been an invaluable tool for assessing his wife’s constant lower back pain.

“When we tested the app on my wife, we got a score of four out of 10. It was so quick and accurate. She’s in pain constantly with her lower back, and has trouble sitting down. The pain scale changes daily, and it makes me feel really comfortable that I can administer the necessary pain killers at any given time.”

In addition, the research has led to the development of a partnership with Dementia Support Australia, which comprises the two entities Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service and Severe Behaviour Response Teams.

“Dementia Support Australia sends consultants out to assist in the care of people living with dementia who have significant behavioural problems,” Professor Hughes says.

“What they had found from their own observations was that somewhere between 35 to 60 per cent of the people had undetected or undertreated pain, and they wanted the means to improve the assessment and documenting of that pain, and better demonstrate the effectiveness of their service.

“PainChek Ltd are effectively doing an implementation trial with them, starting here in Western Australia and then in South Australia. As part of the trial, we provide training and, after each roll out, we also offer clinical and technical support. In 2018, we’ll roll out the app to all 150 of their consultants Australia-wide.”

The development of the app hasn’t stopped there, with PainChek Ltd working on adaptations that can cater for other groups unable to communicate verbally: infants and pre-verbal children.

“Twenty per cent of children have chronic pain, with common causes being headaches and gastrointestinal or musculoskeletal conditions. And that pain can produce a whole range of issues, such as behavioural problems, poor interaction with others and avoiding school. Most people think that little kids don’t feel pain the way adults do, but we’re learning this isn’t the case,” Hughes reveals.

The intended impact of the children’s app is three-fold. One, to provide parents with surety about whether they’re taking the appropriate action. Two, to assist healthcare professionals in deciding what level of pain a child might be in and which medication to administer if applicable, and three, to encourage the investigation of the root cause of the pain to then seek the appropriate treatment.

Much like the adult app, the children’s app contains a number of items to help assess pain, however, the facial recognition element is far more in-depth due to the fact that children typically use more pain-associated facial expressions than adults. As a result, Hughes’ team has been capturing videos of children who are in pain, primarily during the immunisation process, with each video contributing to a database of coded images. With a preliminary algorithm already built, PainChek Ltd plans to have the first prototype available for trialling in 2018.

More information about the  app can be found on the PainChek website.

Why hospital architects need to talk to nurses

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Hospital building work in East Sussex.
Shutterstock

Jens Roehrich, University of Bath

Many of us pay close attention to how our taxes are spent, and how well governments invest in infrastructure projects such as roads, schools and hospitals. Value for money is key. Yet horror stories of waste, lateness and poor quality are common.

To develop and finance public services and infrastructure, governments around the world (but especially in Europe) have become increasingly keen on private sector involvement. These cross-sector collaborations can help provide value for money for taxpayers – but they are also at risk of wasting it.

In health care, collaborations between public and private partners have a direct impact on society. This is why it is important for health care professionals like doctors and nurses to talk directly to the designers and builders of a new hospital. It ensures that these projects not only deliver economic value for the private companies building the hospital – but also social value for the doctors, nurses and patients who will use the hospital for decades to come.

For instance, in one recently built British hospital, medical staff were able to bring valuable insight to the design process. A visit by some of the hospital’s senior nurses to a children’s hospital in the US led to the replication of a lighting design on the ceiling of a children’s ward so that it mimicked a starry night sky. As one of the nurses explained to me afterwards:

It might sound like a small change, but it provides a much more homely surrounding than the normal NHS lighting. This is important for our young patients [providing a] less scary, hospital experience which positively impacts on the healing process. […] It creates a much nicer environment in which our little patients can recover.

In another hospital, input from senior nurses helped to establish a ward design that most suited their professional needs – right down to the placement of plumbing. This saved large amounts of money that might have been spent on undoing unnecessary building work had the nurses not been consulted.

As one project manager of the construction company told me: “Thanks to [the senior nurses’] input and telling us how they intend to use wards, we changed the ward layout, such as the position of sinks. This may seem to be a minor issue, but may have a huge impact when caring for a patient.”

To see how social value can be best achieved through cross-sector collaborations we looked into the key building blocks that go beyond a mere focus on contracts.

An organisations’ prior experience of cross sector collaboration and a supportive climate is vital in creating social value. It also helps to have had some exposure to previous projects (good and bad). But a major ingredient is the individual employees in both public and private sector organisations.

We need a starry sky ceiling right there.
Shutterstock

Building mutual knowledge and aligning goals between doctors, nurses and design and construction professionals is key, as public and private sector employees often have different objectives for projects (making a profit vs healing patients). A shared understanding can come through listening to and appreciating the other parties’ professional language and the expertise that language expresses.

Joint expertise

Beyond an understanding of the other parties’ expertise, practical matters of shared goals and jointly developed timelines are necessary. Coordinating efforts between the two sectors needs to take priority at the outset – rather than emphasising project speed and completion.

To encourage these positive outcomes, the key people need to meet frequently to exchange information, address problems and discuss plans. Without this kind of coordination and collaboration, it will be impossible to make the most of both sides’ specialist knowledge.

So when it comes to hospitals and clinics, the private company needs to actively seek the involvement of doctors and nurses in the design and construction phases. Similarly, doctors and nurses should not be threatened by private companies, but instead seek to become actively engaged. This will help drive creative design innovations such as the “night sky” ceiling in the children’s ward.

The ConversationIt takes time and resources, but this kind of collaboration and coordination between public and private sectors provides an opportunity to increase value – both economic and social. And that’s something that not only benefits construction companies and health care professionals – but patients and taxpayers, too.

Jens Roehrich, Professor of Supply Chain Innovation, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dementia coaching program offers chance to live well

News Release
August 8, 2018 | Australia, Dementia coaching program offers chance to live well

Support available for Sydney residents diagnosed with dementia
A new University of Sydney trial offers coaching and peer support to help people newly diagnosed with dementia cope with their prognosis and stay active and involved in their lives and community.

“I want to try and help people see they can fight back…you can’t just give into it.”

Bobby Redman, Peer supporter living with dementia

Lead researcher Associate Professor Lee-Fay Low said the pilot study has the potential to fill a vital service gap with the latest research suggesting keeping the mind and body active could slow the progression of dementia.

“Following a dementia diagnosis many people withdraw from their friends and family for fear they will deteriorate quickly and can suffer immense grief or depression,” said Low, Associate Professor in Ageing and Health at the University of Sydney.

“There are over 400 000 Australians currently living with dementia and with a cure still some way off it’s essential that we help people with early dementia to live well.

“We hope that giving people the right support, tools and strategies from the onset could help achieve this.”

The Dementia Lifestyle Coach pilot study is a collaboration between the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Brain and Mind Centre.

Participants will receive 14 counselling and coaching sessions from a registered psychologist over a six-month period and will also have a regular phone or skype catch ups with a peer supporter who lives with dementia.


Retired psychologist Bobby Redman is one of the peer supporters involved in the study.

Photo of peer supporter Bobby Redman

Bobby was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia two and half years ago at age 66 after she noticed problems remembering the names of close friends and an inability to find the right words to express herself.

“My story is a bit different because with my psychology background I knew something was definitely wrong – but a dementia diagnosis is still a shock for anyone,” said Bobby.

“And what’s probably hardest is that, like in my experience, many people with early dementia are just told to come back when things get worse or to get their things in order.

“But I’ve learnt that there are tools and strategies you can put in place to help manage the impact of dementia. Even simple things like using my phone to set daily reminders to drink water and stay hydrated.

“What I’d like to see is more clinicians trained to provide these strategies to people to help them overcome simple issues.

“I want to try and help people see they can fight back. I think that’s the key….you can’t just give into it.”

The pilot study will run over a 12-month period, with researchers aiming to assess the impact the coaching program has on participants’ mood, independence, activity levels and quality of life.

Participant information

The University of Sydney is trialling a counselling and coaching program for people living at home recently diagnosed with early dementia. To be eligible you must have received a diagnosis of early dementia within the past 6 months. Read more information about the Dementia lifestyle coaching study or contact Dr Annica Barcenilla on +61 2 9351 9837 or annica.barcenilla@sydney.edu.au

 

Dementia could be detected via routinely collected data, new research shows

Media Release
July 11, 2018 | United Kingdom, University of Plymouth – Dementia could be detected via routinely collected data, new research shows

photography of person typing

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Improving dementia care through increased and timely diagnosis is an NHS priority, yet around half of those living with dementia live with the condition unaware.

Now a new machine-learning model that scans routinely collected NHS data has shown promising signs of being able to predict undiagnosed dementia in primary care.

Led by the University of Plymouth, the study collected Read-encoded data from 18 consenting GP surgeries across Devon, UK, for 26,483 patients aged over 65.

The Read codes – a thesaurus of clinical terms used to summarise clinical and administrative data for UK GPs – were assessed on whether they may contribute to dementia risk, with factors included such as weight and blood pressure.

These codes were used to train a machine-learning classification model to identify patients that may have underlying dementia.

The results showed that 84 per cent of people who had dementia were detected as having the condition (sensitivity value) while 87 per cent of people without dementia had been correctly acknowledged as not having the condition (specificity value), according to the data.

These results indicate that the model can detect those with underlying dementia with an accuracy of 84 per cent. This suggests that the machine-learning model could, in future, significantly reduce the number of those living with undiagnosed dementia – from around 50 per cent (current estimated figure) to 8 per cent*.

Principal Investigator Professor Emmanuel Ifeachor, from the School of Computing Electronics and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth, said the results were promising.

“Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) where systems automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed,” he said. “It’s already being used for many applications throughout healthcare such as medical imaging, but using it for patient data has not been done in quite this way before. The methodology is promising and, if successfully developed and deployed, may help to increase dementia diagnosis in primary care.”

Dr Camille Carroll, Consultant Neurologist at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and Researcher in the Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine at the University of Plymouth, collaborated on the research.

She said:

“Dementia is a disease with so many different contributing factors, and it can be quite difficult to pinpoint or predict. There is strong epidemiological evidence that a number of cardiovascular and lifestyle factors such as hypertension; high cholesterol; diabetes; obesity; stroke; atrial fibrillation; smoking; and reduced cognitive, physical, or social activities can predict the risk of dementia in later life, but no studies have taken place that allow us to see this quickly. So having tools that can take a vast amount of data, and automatically identify patients with possible dementia, to facilitate targeted screening, could potentially be very useful and help improve diagnosis rates.”

The full research, entitled ‘Machine-learning based identification of undiagnosed dementia in primary care: a feasibility study’, was led by the University of Plymouth with collaboration from Re:Cognition Health, Plymouth; the University of Edinburgh; University Medical School, Swansea; Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG); and the University of St Andrews.

The paper is available to view in the BJGP Open (doi:10.3399/bjgpopen18X101589).

*8 per cent calculated as follows: 50 per cent of dementia sufferers are undiagnosed, and the machine-learning model detected dementia with 84 per cent accuracy. Therefore 84 per cent of these undiagnosed 50 per cent would be diagnosed using this model = 42 per cent. 8 per cent, the number remaining, would remain undiagnosed.

Miss Amy McSweeny – Media and Communications Officer