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  • A new dementia assessment test known as Fastball EEG has proven to be effective to detect changes in brain waves when a patient remembers an image.
  • Fastball is unique because it doesn’t require the patient to understand the test, allowing researchers to bypass issues such as education, language and nervousness, which can impact performance on traditional tests.
  • Experts agree that Fastball shows promise in the field of dementia diagnosis. Studies are currently underway at a clinic in Bristol to further determine the efficacy of this test.

Early detection is crucial in order to treat and prevent any disease. For Alzheimer’s disease, researchers are continuing to explore new avenues for early diagnosis.

The universities of Bath and Bristol were awarded £1.5 million / $1.9 million funding for a new test to help with the early detection for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The dementia assessment is called ‘Fastball EEG.’

‘Fastball’ examines patients’ brain waves using an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset. Prior studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Fastball when it comes to detecting changes in brain waves during memory recognition.

Unlike current diagnostic tests which involve personal questions to test an individual’s memory, Fastball doesn’t require the person to understand the test.

“Fastball is a unique test because it doesn’t require the patient to understand the test or provide any response. This helps us to bypass a lot of the confounds that can affect performance on a traditional test. Things like education, language and nervousness can affect anyone’s performance on a test, and Fastball’s passive nature helps bypass that,” Dr. George Stothart, lead author and a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Bath, told Healthline.

Over the next five years, the team will test Fastball on more than 1,000 patients at a dementia clinic at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.

This will be the largest study to use EEG to test for Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have the proof-of-principle that Fastball works, next we’re moving it from the laboratory to a clinic that specializes in dementia diagnosis. This will help us understand how Fastball works at scale, and how to improve it, and how best to make it available to the NHS and other healthcare systems,” Stothart added.

Dr. Joel Salinas, Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at NYU Langone Health and Chief Medical Officer at Isaac Health, an online memory center, explained this research is compelling in a few ways.

Firstly, the use of a completely non-invasive, passive test like Fastball could be a game changer in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, given that current methods can be highly subjective and prone to error.

The concept of detecting dementia by measuring changes in brain waves as a person watches images is fascinating and has been an active area of research in the field by various investigators, each coming at this research from their own unique angle.

It is worth noting that while these early signs and similar physiologic markers are encouraging, much more research will be needed to validate the efficacy and reliability of this and similar diagnostic tools, Salinas noted.

“There are several ways to corroborate a diagnosis of dementia. If this method can provide an inexpensive, quick, and painless new method then it could end up being helpful,” said Raphael Wald, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist at Baptist Health Marcus Neuroscience Institute.

Dementia is often the later-to-end stage of a disease that begins several years to decades before, often silently and insidiously. As a result, dementia and diseases that cause dementia are often not diagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage, Dr. Jason Krellman, neuropsychologist and a professor of Neuropsychology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, explained. Earlier detection could help patients and families by giving them valuable time to address modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline, make future care plans, and seek the highest quality palliative care.

“If effective, a diagnostic test like Fastball EEG would allow for earlier diagnosis in a wider range of patients who might otherwise not be able to access current standard diagnostic services, such as because of cost or lack of specialists and appropriate diagnostic facilities in their area,” Krellman stated. “The available data are promising, but further work is needed to fully characterize the diagnostic potential of this technology and its ability to assist in the differential diagnosis of various diseases that cause dementia.”

Another benefit of this test is that it’s portable.

“The technology’s portability, [allows] tests to be conducted anywhere, is an important advantage to be taken into consideration for tests like this,” Salinas stated. “If proven successful, it could become a powerful tool in early detection and long-term management of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Aside from Fastball, there are other promising diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Biomarker tests that examine beta-amyloid and tau proteins in cerebrospinal fluid or through PET scans are the most direct diagnostic tools we have available,” said Salinas. “The development of blood tests that can identify these biomarkers and other types of advanced imaging are also fast-evolving areas of research. These measures could potentially allow for even earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.”

However, it is important to note that while emerging technologies are promising, they are each at different stages of development, where some need much more study to confirm their accuracy and effectiveness, Salinas added.

The universities of Bath and Bristol were awarded £1.5 million / $1.9 million funding for a new test, ‘Fastball EEG’ to improve early detection for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Unlike other diagnostic tests, Fastball is passive, and doesn’t require the patient to understand the test. This eliminates issues such as education, language and nervousness, which can influence test results.

Doctors agree that Fastball can prove to be beneficial for diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage. That being said, further research is necessary.