Mind and Body

Dementia app spots early signs of condition

The iPad after it was unveiled at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in early 2010. Apple is expected to unveil the second generation of its wildly successful media tablet this week, widening its head start against competitors just starting to sell their first tablet computers.

The iPad after it was unveiled at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in early 2010. Apple is expected to unveil the second generation of its wildly successful media tablet this week, widening its head start against competitors just starting to sell their first tablet computers.  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

British scientists developed an iPad-based memory test that can spot dementia in its earliest stages, when treatment can be most beneficial.

Researchers from Cambridge University helped to develop the CANTABmobile test, which assesses patients' short-term memory with a series of challenges in which they have to remember symbols.

Trials show that the computer program accurately distinguishes normal age-related forgetfulness from dementia and other treatable memory problems.

Dr. John O'Loan, who tested the app at his lab in Warrington, northwestern England, said, "Not everyone with memory problems has dementia. There are a small number of medical conditions -- vitamin deficiencies or an underactive thyroid -- that we check for if patients have problems with their memory."

Doctors currently use pen-and-paper tests to screen for the condition, with patients asked a series of questions including the date and whether they can spell "world" backwards.

However, the tests can fail to pick up dementia, particularly in patients with higher academic qualifications.

The iPad app is far more sensitive, even picking up mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia.

Michael Hurt, Dementia Care Program Manager for NHS Walsall added, "We might find that we get people through the system more quickly and more effectively because the screening tool is more accurate, and that's better for GPs, hospital staff, as well as the people receiving the test."

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