A smartwatch style device to detect early signs of dementia by using artificial intelligence to monitor more than 30 indicators, such as speech, fine motor skills and sleep. will be trialled by a million British people.
The wrist-worn device could ‘revolutionise’ the detection of dementia and in three years, the prototype will be worn by a million over 40s in Britain recruited as part of the Government’s Accelerating Detection of Disease programme, The Times reported.
It could help with the early intervention of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, which develop up to 20 years before symptoms show but are often not diagnosed until extensive damage has been done.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK and there are currently no treatments to stop or slow the brain diseases that cause it.
The device trials are part of a global initiative launched today by Alzheimer’s Research UK and part-funded by Microsoft founder Gates.
British scientists are looking at data from around 10,000 people to identify the ‘fingerprints’ which can be used to help diagnosis.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron, who is now president of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the project was an example of how technology could be used to treat dementia patients who were ‘slipping into a world of darkness’.
‘It has an achievable aim: to develop a gadget - a combination of a wearable device and smartphone app - to detect the earliest digital fingerprints of a disease,’ he said.
‘This isn’t some Big Brother intervention. Just as we measure our cholesterol levels to tell us when we need a statin, we need to identify these fingerprints of diseases such as Alzheimer’s to see when we need a statin for the brain.
‘My interest in dementia was sparked when I was an MP, witnessing the tragedy of more and more people in my constituency slipping into this world of darkness.
‘As prime minister, I was determined to prove this wasn’t an inevitable part of ageing but was being caused by diseases of the brain that can be tackled with research.
‘That’s why I put the issue on the global agenda, through summits such as the G8, and we doubled the research funding at home. And it’s why I made it my focus post-politics.’
The initiative is a collaboration between Alzheimer’s Research UK and organisations including the Alan Turing Institute, University College London, and Newcastle, Exeter and Cambridge universities.
The project hopes to secure at least £67 million in funding in the first six years and up to £100 million by 2030.
Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our research shows that 85% of UK adults would be willing to take a test that could tell them if they were in the early stages of a disease like Alzheimer’s, even before symptoms show. Developing digital fingerprints that can be detected using phone apps or wearable technologies like smart watches would provide a low-cost approach to identifying those most at risk of disease.
“Identifying the very earliest changes in these diseases would transform research efforts today, giving us the best chance of stopping these diseases before the symptoms of dementia start to get in the way of life.”