Fitness Tracking Tech Could Be the New Best Way to Diagnose Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia seen in the elderly, is increasingly becoming a global healthcare challenge. There is still no cure, and therapies that slow symptom progression require early diagnosis to be effective. Now, an interdisciplinary team of German researchers has found that simple motion sensors can pick up the physical activity changes associated with the disease, and even diagnose Alzheimer's more effectively than current methods.

The researchers placed three-axis accelerometers — exactly like you'll find in any good fitness tracker — on the ankles of diagnosed Alzheimer's patients and their cognitively healthy caretakers living in the same home. In a blind analysis of the motion data, the team was able to discern Alzheimer's patients from healthy control subjects 91% of the time — making the motion detectors more sensitive than the standard method, where caregivers tally up the number of hallmark behavioral changes the patient demonstrates.

University of Rostock Professor Stefan Teipel, who designed the study, says that this sensitive detection could give doctors a better way to monitor disease progress and the effectiveness of interventions. "And the measure we obtain is objective, it does not require the assessment by a human observer," he says.

Further testing is needed before this method can be relied on to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. But a simple, inexpensive wearable device that detects this disease before changes in behavior become apparent could revolutionize the way we care for Alzheimer's patients. [Journal of Alzheimer's Disease via MedicalXpress]