WATERLOO — Wilfrid Laurier University researchers and two family health teams in Waterloo Region are part of an innovative study testing the use of artificial intelligence for early detection of Alzheimer’s.
Early detection and intervention is key to helping seniors stay at home as long as possible, easing the load on caregivers and the health care system.
“It’s a better quality of life for themselves, certainly less burden on family and caregivers and less cost to the system,” said Josephine McMurray, assistant professor in Laurier’s business technology management program.
McMurray and another professor from Laurier’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics will evaluate the economic impact of the program.
Two family health teams, in Kitchener and Cambridge, are involved in the project, and two more in the Wellington area.
A tablet-based screening tool will be used with 10,000 patients during the study, to identify cognitive decline earlier than current tools, allowing for earlier personalized treatment plans.
Data from these patients will be combined with data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and analyzed for early risk factors, using machine learning and artificial intelligence. The predictive algorithm developed can then be used by doctors to scan electronic records and identify at-risk patients for assessment.
“Most people, we rely on them to self-identify,” McMurray said. “Early detection really isn’t there at this point.”
But early detection means early intervention, which can initially slow or in some case reverse cognitive decline.
“This is about quality of life,” McMurray said.
The study is led by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, a nonprofit organization delivering home-care and health-care services across Canada, with an office in Cambridge.
Cognitive decline that goes undetected and untreated worsens quickly, affecting a person’s ability to live independently at home as long as possible.
It’s that “missed opportunity” to delay the disease’s progression that the research aims to address.
“We see it as a significant issue, not only for individuals, but for society as a whole,” said Mary Lou Ackerman, vice-president of innovation at Saint Elizabeth.
The province announced $5.47 million in funding for 12 related projects, through the Health Technologies Fund in December, including $493,000 for this project.
It’s a partnership between Laurier and Saint Elizabeth Health Care, BrainFX, ThoughtWire Corp., Southlake Regional Health Centre, and four family health teams in the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network.
There currently are 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, and 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. The annual cost to Canadians to care for those living with dementia is $10.4 billion, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
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