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August 24, 2016

Hundreds of volunteers to battle Alzheimer’s with wearable technology

In 2015, approximately 47 million people worldwide were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. With the help of hundreds of volunteers British researchers hope to gain new insights into Alzheimer’s disease. With the help of wearable technology they search for biomarkers, the early symptoms of the disease. These are already visible well before the obvious signs of the disease manifest themselves. The researchers hope this will open new ways to combat the disease before the brain becomes damaged too seriously.

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Experts hope to find markers on the eye scans, brain scans or in the blood. For this study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council,, the assistance is requested by 250 volunteers, including former academic Peter Lindon. He has Alzheimer’s and hopes his cooperation helps to answer tough questions.

"That it is important is an understatement, because losing your short-term memory has a lot of consequences," he says. "The main question that people have is how much time they have between being competent and becoming incompetent." Peter Lindon has to undergo many tests, both mentally and physically, to help researchers identify biomarkers in an early stage. That’s probably the best way to find an effective therapy.

Every three minutes someone in the UK becomes demented, mostly from Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by faulty proteins under the name amyloid and tau, which accumulate in the brain. Research already showed that a lot and good quality sleep can delay the onset of the disease.

"For more than a decade 99% of the clinical trials for Alzheimer’s failed," says Jennifer Lawson from Oxford University. "We think that’s because we start the tests too late. By the time someone at the doctor claims to have memory problems and the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, it is highly probable that the brain has already been attacked by the disease for 10 to 20 years."

In a well-equipped laboratory in the Clinical Ageing Research Unit at the University of Newcastle another volunteer, Trish Jones, is testing how she walks, known as the "Gait test".
 

This research makes use of inexpensive and portable wearable technology to track how they walk, so they can use the technology in their everyday activities. This gives researchers a fairly accurate picture of what is really happening. "When I walk home I wobble. Here in the lab where everything is straight, I do not! This gives a distorted picture, so it is important that you do this for seven days, because when I normally walk, I can be distracted. "

Good biomarker

Lynn Rochester, professor of kinesiology at the University of Newcastle, says that the “Gait” gives essential information about how the brain works. "How someone walks, is not something we would want to investigate at first. But we are not headless chickens, we need to think about what we do with our feet and especially in the real world. You navigate, avoid obstacles, make many decisions, there maybe someone talking to you, so there is a lot of cognitive skills necessary to enable one to walk safely and independently. "

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