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Updated: Aug 17


This BBC News article reports on the potential of brain scans to help diagnose dementia earlier. Dementia is an umbrella term for a cluster of conditions in which sufferers experience memory loss. The main predictor of dementia is age, since individuals are most likely to develop dementia in their 60s or 70s. One example of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease in which neurons develop neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. The result of these tangles and plaques is cell death which means memory loss. Whilst there is no know cure for Alzheimer's, early diagnosis and intervention is naturally desirable.

Although the article does not state which brain scans are being used here, the image of the man undergoing treatment looks like an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. An MRI works when the magnetic properties of a proton (inside hydrogen atoms) are detected by a large magnet in the MRI machine. When an individual brain is scanned the concentration of protons in the brain is a measure of which brain areas are dominant and which brain areas have greater volumes of tissue.

It is not a new technique to use MRI as a method of detecting brain disorders. What is new here is the development of sophisticated artificial intelligence to determine which scanned brains are in the early signs of dementia. Whilst someone who is at an advanced stage of dementia would be easy to identify using brain scans, early signs are not so clear. Although this technology is in the early stages it is potentially important in diagnosing dementia as early as possible.

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