Innovative headband may detect signs of Alzheimer's in sleep

Researchers have now created a simple, lightweight headband device for the early diagnosis of this debilitating condition. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Representational image
Representational image


While Alzheimer's has no cure, early detection may allow for improved management of the disease, thereby potentially slowing its progression and improving the quality of life for those affected. 

Researchers have now created a simple, lightweight headband device for the early diagnosis of this debilitating condition. 

This innovative device was made possible through a collaborative effort of researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Washington University in St. Louis. 

The newly created technology measures brain activity while we sleep in order to detect early indicators of Alzheimer's disease long before the condition starts to impact performance and memory. 

The device monitors brain waves during sleep

Alzheimer's is a progressive and degenerative brain disorder that impairs memory, thinking, and behavior. 

Individuals can wear this headband while they sleep, and the device will continuously monitor brainwaves and identify any disturbances that could be indications of early Alzheimer's. 

The device monitors brain wave patterns using electroencephalography (EEG). 

“This digital biomarker essentially enables any simple EEG headband device to be used as a fitness tracker for brain health,” said Brice McConnell, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at the University of Colorado and study senior author, in an official release. 

Previous medical studies have pointed to a correlation between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer's. However, it remains unclear how poor sleep quality influences Alzheimer's development or even how the disease affects sleep. 

Large scale study

Researchers evaluated the efficiency of a headband in monitoring brain health in a large study comprising more than 205 elderly individuals. 

Reportedly, the headband may detect brain activities such as "theta bursts, sleep spindles, and slow waves," – all of which are connected to memory processing while sleeping.

The team identified alterations in neural patterns during sleep that could be linked to the accumulation of amyloid and tau proteins, which serve as biomarkers in the brain of Alzheimer's patients.

“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. Identifying these early biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in asymptomatic adults can help patients develop preventative or mitigation strategies before the disease advances,” explained McConnell. 

We still have a long way to go

While early detection of this disease is beneficial, it is not always straightforward. Mainly because the exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is not fully understood.

That’s why headbands like this one are still far from becoming commercially or clinically available. 

Despite this, the team believes that this simple wearable device might one day make a significant difference in early Alzheimer's detection. 

“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,” said McConnell. 

Aside from this, various technologies and tests are being developed to aid in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. 

For instance, some tests will depend on blood and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers to detect abnormal levels of beta-amyloid and tau proteins. These tests are currently in the early stages of development and are not yet commonly utilized in clinical practice.

The study results were reported in the Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Study abstract:

Memory-associated neural circuits produce oscillatory events including theta bursts (TBs), sleep spindles (SPs), and slow waves (SWs) in sleep electroencephalography (EEG). Changes in the “coupling” of these events may indicate early Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathogenesis.

Methods: We analyzed 205 aging adults using single-channel sleep EEG, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) AD biomarkers, and Clinical Dementia Rating® (CDR®) scale. We mapped SW-TB and SW-SP neural circuit coupling precision to amyloid positivity, cognitive impairment, and CSF AD biomarkers.

Results: Cognitive impairment correlated with lower TB spectral power in SW-TB coupling. Cognitively unimpaired, amyloid positive individuals demonstrated lower precision in SW-TB and SW-SP coupling compared to amyloid negative individuals. Significant biomarker correlations were found in oscillatory event coupling with CSF Aβ42/Aβ40, phosphorylated- tau181, and total-tau.

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