A specialist memory clinic at Princess Royal Hospital will be the lead hospital site in a study that will use smartphones and wearable augmented reality devices to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages.
Consultant Neurologist Dr Dennis Chan runs the memory clinic at Princess Royal Hospital, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust. He is also a Principal Research Fellow at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and was awarded a £2 million research grant from the National Institute of Health and Care Research for this study.
He said: “Current pen and paper tests used in memory clinics may not be detecting Alzheimer’s disease early enough and can be limiting for people with language or cultural differences. Given that PET brain scans and lumbar punctures – which are effective for early diagnosis – are expensive, invasive, and not widely available, there is a need to identify new accurate tests that are simple to use, to help diagnose and treat people with Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible.”
Dr Chan and his team at UCL have previously shown that virtual reality-based tests can be highly effective in diagnosing early Alzheimer’s disease and may also be capable of detecting it before symptoms begin. This is because the parts of the brain linked to spatial awareness are thought to be the first to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Chan added: “Problems with spatial awareness may be one of the earliest, if not the earliest, signs of Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, we aim to develop spatial tests using smartphones and wearable augmented reality devices that can be easily and effectively used in memory clinics and GP surgeries. Early detection of disease would give people the best chance to delay or prevent progression to dementia via lifestyle changes and imminent drug treatments.”
Dr Chan’s clinic at Princess Royal Hospital will be the main hospital site for the study, recruiting about 100 patients. The study will also involve GP surgeries and GP-led memory clinics across Brighton and Hove, East and West Sussex, to assess usability of these tests in primary care.
Dr Chan added: “These tests will also be usable across diverse communities, independent of cultural and language differences. We will specifically include participants from ethnic minority communities nationwide, therefore, helping to address inequalities in diagnostic practice that disadvantage people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, in particular.”
Research and innovation represent one of the key strategic themes for University Hospitals Sussex, towards achieving the vision of excellent care every time.
As part of this, the Trust is widening access to clinical trials and getting more patients and staff involved in more research studies. This study builds on ongoing research undertaken by Dr Chan and his research team at the hospital and will recruit from patients seen in the memory clinic.