A new study published in the journal Science by a team of researchers from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany, has revealed that Alzheimer’s disease could now be predicted using a series of virtual reality tests long before the disease is diagnosed.
The team of German neuroscientists recruited participants that were aged between 18 and 30 years of age. These were instructed to pick items that were scattered all over a virtual space and then asked to return the taken items to the exact spot they were picked from moments later.
The scientists asked the volunteers to do this exercise because Alzheimer’s patients have problems navigating the real world around them, hence the need to see them perform in a virtual world. The brain cells of the volunteers were monitored while the participants engaged in the virtual real test in a virtual world.
The reason for this was because the researchers reckoned they should be able to know patients with a greater risk of developing the disease through their genetic markup. The ultimate aim of the researchers is to be able to develop a treatment procedure for Alzheimer’s using the results obtained from the VR test.
The participants with the highest risks for developing the disease performed differently in the VR test because the cells responsible for the disease in their brain did not mark so strong.
The researchers established that those with a greater risk to developing the disease had a different brain signal that registered decades before the disease is diagnosed, and that they moved round their virtual world in a way different from others that were not at risk of the disease.
They further added that results of the study provide the main framework with which Alzheimer’s disease could be researched, with the ability to fully understand the dynamics behind why patients see or navigate the environment differently from others not having the condition.
People with Alzheimer’s sometimes also suffer from dementia, and about 750,000 people suffer from the condition in the UK, coupled with the fact that the government spends about £20 billion annually to pay for treatments. It is projected that the number of dementia patients will rise beyond one million by 2021.
But health officials say about 30,000 patients could be saved annually if the onset of dementia in Alzheimer’s patients could be delayed for at least five years.