Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have developed a technique that may spot the very early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, years before symptoms arise. The method may alert patients and clinicians to an increased risk of the disease, potentially allowing them to take steps to slow the disease progression. The method involves using a simple EEG headband while sleeping. The researchers have identified EEG signatures in aging adults that may indicate early Alzheimer’s pathology. These EEG phenomena relate to memory reactivation that occurs during sleep, and may reveal aspects of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease such as amyloid positivity and cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s disease has significant consequences for those who experience it and those who care for them. Moreover, with our aging population, levels of Alzheimer’s disease are likely to significantly increase. Identifying the disease early is tricky, and many people are diagnosed when symptoms such as memory loss have already manifested. However, identifying the early stages of the disease may allow someone to take steps to slow its progression, and with the advent of new Alzheimer’s treatments in the future it may even be possible to avoid the disease altogether.
This latest technological development may provide such an early warning system for Alzheimer’s and has the bonus of being completely non-invasive. The system is based on simple EEG measurements that are taken during sleep, using a simple soft headband. These researchers have studied over two hundred aging adults, and correlated aspects of Alzheimer’s disease with EEG phenomena.
“This digital biomarker essentially enables any simple EEG headband device to be used as a fitness tracker for brain health,” said Brice McConnell, MD, PhD, a researcher involved in the study. “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 EEG headband picks up phenomena during memory reactivation during sleep, which the researchers have correlated with aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, the University of Colorado team identified a relationship between slow wave-theta bursts and slow wave-sleep spindles found in EEG data with cognitive impairment, the presence of amyloid proteins and protein biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease that are found in the cerebrospinal fluid.
“What we found is these abnormal levels of proteins are related to sleep memory reactivations, which we could identify in people’s brainwave patterns before they experienced any symptoms,” said McConnell. “Identifying these early biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in asymptomatic adults can help patients develop preventative or mitigation strategies before the disease advances.”
Study in journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Mapping sleep’s oscillatory events as a biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease