A 'Fitness Tracker' Headband Could Detect Early Alzheimer's Brain Changes While We Sleep

A 'Fitness Tracker' Headband Could Detect Early Alzheimer's Brain Changes While We Sleep

Fitness trackers can help us monitor our exercise, our daily calories burned, our resting heart rate, and our sleep patterns. As a result, they’re an easy way to keep an eye on some basic health metrics. A new study has used similar technology for something new: detecting pre-symptomatic signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and Washington University in St. Louis recently tested a digital device built into a headband that uses electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain wave activity during sleep. The findings, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, show that the technology can detect changes in memory reactivation, which occurs in deep sleep, that are linked with very early Alzheimer’s. The team believes this shows promise for a new way to tackle Alzheimer’s much earlier on.

Dr. Brice McConnell, senior author and assistant professor of neurology at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, explains, “This digital biomarker essentially enables any simple EEG headband device to be used as a fitness tracker for brain health. Demonstrating how we can assess digital biomarkers for early indications of disease using accessible and scalable headband devices in a home setting is a huge advancement in catching and mitigating Alzheimer’s disease at the earliest stages.”

The study involved 205 older adults and analyzed EEG sleep data, as well as data on cerebrospinal fluid, Alzheimer’s biomarkers, and the Clinical Dementia Rating scale, which characterizes six areas of cognitive and functional performance related to dementia.

In addition to the differences in memory reactivation, the study also linked these changes with levels of Alzheimer’s-related proteins amyloid and tau, which accumulate in the brains of people with the disease. This was occurring before any signs of cognitive impairment.

In addition to possible treatments, the team says the findings could also help with prevention. The study shows a possible new direction for wearable devices, as well.

Dr. McConnell says, “We are just scratching the surface with this work, paving the way for affordable and easy-to-use devices to monitor brain health. This is proof of principle that brain waves during sleep can be turned into a digital biomarker, and our next steps involve perfecting the process.”

To read more of the study, click here.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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