2-minute computer test could tackle global crisis of undiagnosed dementia

A new report has highlighted how widespread the crisis of undiagnosed dementia is worldwide. Research from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) shows that more than 41 million individuals are living with dementia across the planet, but without having a diagnosis.

This is significant as without confirmation of the condition, these people are going without the support they need. It also precludes them from treatment to slow down cognitive decline or the opportunity to take part in clinical trials.

Up to 90 per cent of people with dementia in some countries are undiagnosed, according to research from McGill University in Montreal in Canada, which was published in the report. This underscores the extent to which dementia is a global health challenge, as it’s estimated 130 million people will be living with the disease by the year 2050.

Richard Oakley, the head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, told The Guardian: “Low dementia diagnosis rates were already a global problem, but these new figures show the scale of the crisis. For those who don’t get a diagnosis, this can cause stress, confusion, and leave them vulnerable to the effects of their condition.

“However, current diagnostic tests are expensive, often inaccessible and to make matters worse there’s still stigma around getting dementia, creating additional barriers particularly in some cultures. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

There is hope, however, in the battle to get cases diagnosed, as a revolutionary new two-minute computer test could replace the current methods. An electrode cap detects subtle changes in brain waves as patients look at flashing images on a computer screen in the new test and compares them to healthy adults with a high degree of accuracy.

It could see a wave of individuals being diagnosed as much as five years earlier than the current routes and enable them to receive more help. At present, most cases are not confirmed until the disease has progressed and symptoms have emerged, by which point it’s too late for treatments to make a difference.

Dr George Stothart, of the University of Bath, said: “The holy grail of a tool like this would be a dementia screening tool used in middle age for everyone, regardless of symptoms, in the same way we test for high blood pressure. We are a long way from that, but this is a step towards that goal.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 70 per cent of care home residents have dementia or a severe memory problem. A person develops the condition every three minutes in the UK and Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.

While one in six over-80s have dementia, there’s also a significant number of younger people who are also living with the disease. Estimates suggest 42,000 under-65s have the condition in the UK, which puts pressure on families and loved ones for support.