Brain wave test may one day predict dementia
A new way of analyzing a painless, relatively inexpensive brain wave test may one day provide a way to predict who will develop dementia, New York University scientists report in a Neurobiology of Aging study released online Oct. 5.
The test is an electroencephalograph (EEG), which measures the brain's electrical activity in much the same way an electrocardiogram (EKG) measures electrical signals in the heart.
"There is a strong need for reliable, cost-effective ways to identify individuals at risk for dementia and monitor response to treatment," notes William H. Thies, Ph.D., Alzheimer's Association vice president, medical and scientific affairs. "EEG could be economically feasible, but we won't know about the reliability until this technique is tested in much larger groups with a greater variety of medical conditions and with more than one laboratory performing the analysis."
This study analyzed data for 44 people in their 60s and 70s who felt as if they were having memory problems, but scored normally on tests of memory and thinking processes. Each participant received an EEG at the time of enrollment and then periodic tests of memory and thinking over at least seven more years. During follow-up, 17 participants remained stable, seven developed dementia, and 20 declined to the point where they scored below normal on some memory tests but did not meet diagnostic standards for dementia.
The scientists used a sophisticated computer program to compare participants' enrollment EEGs with a database of more than 12,000 EEGs from individuals with and without dementia or memory impairment. The comparison revealed characteristic brain wave patterns that appeared to predict accurately who would eventually decline.
The researchers note that their results need to be reproduced in larger studies enrolling individuals with a broader range of medical conditions more similar to what an average doctor would see in his practice.