The smartphone app that could help detect the cause of early-onset dementia

A smartphone app could help detect a leading cause of early-onset dementia in people at high risk of developing it, a new study suggests.

Frontotemporal dementia identified with an app

Scientists have shown that cognitive tests, performed via a smartphone app, are at least as sensitive to detecting early signs of frontotemporal dementia in people with a genetic predisposition to the condition as medical assessments performed in clinics, notes The guardian

Frontotemporal dementia is a neurological disorder, often seen in middle age, when the part of the brain responsible for skills such as the ability to plan, prioritize tasks, filter out distractions and control impulses shrinks as the disease progresses.

The symptoms, often confused with mental disorders

About a third of such cases have a genetic cause, but research into the condition has been hampered by problems with early diagnosis and difficulties in tracking how people respond to treatments, which can only be effective in the early stages of the disease.

Most patients with frontotemporal dementia are diagnosed relatively late, because they are young, and their symptoms are mistaken for psychiatric disorders”said the study's lead author, Prof. Adam Boxer, from the University of California, San Francisco.

Smartphones have already become tools for the diagnosis and assessment of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.

To investigate their utility in frontotemporal dementia, Boxer and his colleagues collaborated with US software company Datacubed Health to develop an app that could record people's speech as they engaged in several cognitive tests, including assessments of executive functioning.

We also created gait, balance and slow-motion tests, as well as various aspects of language,” said Dr. Adam Staffaroni, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of California, San Francisco and first author of the study.

The app was tested on 360 adults with a high genetic risk of developing frontotemporal dementia, including some who had not yet developed obvious symptoms.

The app could outperform tests in clinics

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, found that the app could accurately detect dementia in such individuals and could even be more sensitive to the early stages of the condition than standard neuropsychological assessments, which are typically performed in clinics.

While there are no immediate plans to make the app available to the public, Staffaroni said it could help advance research into the condition.

More than 30 such clinical trials are underway or in the planning stages, including trials of therapies that could help slow disease progression in some gene carriers.

A major barrier was the lack of rthe results of some measurements

which can be collected easily and which are sensitive to the effects of treatment in the early stages of the disease.”

Frequent face-to-face assessments are also burdensome for patients, carers and doctors.

We hope cUm smartphone assessments will facilitate new testing of promising therapies. Finally, the app can be used to monitor the effects of treatment, replacing many VISITS at clinics“, concluded Staffaroni.