New 'ear-EEG' device could be used for early detection of neurodegenerative disorders

By monitoring sleep patterns, the ear-EEG device detects early signs of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
Kavita Verma

A new project called Progression Assessment in Neurodegenerative Disorders of Aging or PANDA aims to detect subtle changes in a person's sleep patterns that may indicate the onset of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. The collaboration of this four-year project involves Rigshospitalet University, Denmark's Aarhus University, and MedTech company T&W Engineering. The project has received funding of DKK 15 million to develop and test a small earbud-like experimental device that can detect the early signs of these diseases. 

The Ear-EEG Technology

Unlike the traditional sleep-monitoring systems that require a person to stay in a clinic with multiple electrodes attached to their body, the ear-EEG allows for comfortable, long-term use at home. The device monitors electrical activity in the brain by measuring tiny voltage changes on the skin surface within the ear canal. It is also equipped with an oximeter for measuring blood oxygen levels, a microphone for monitoring respiration and heart rate, and a thermometer for measuring body temperature.

The ear-EEG provides a more accurate representation of the wearer's natural sleep patterns and is less intrusive than conventional monitoring systems. People at risk of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's could use the ear-EEG to track their sleeping patterns for several weeks or days annually. By doing so, early signs of the diseases can be detected 10 to 15 years before the first problems begin to occur.

Testing and Benefits of Ear-EEG Technology

The project involves testing the ear EEG on groups of volunteers with and without Neurodegenerative Disorders. The aim is to examine whether consistently detectable patterns emerge in the sleep patterns of these groups. If successful, the ear-EEG could potentially replace the existing and more troublesome sleep monitoring technologies.

In a statement, Aarhus University's Prof. Preben Kidmose said, "Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are diseases that creep up over many years. In the project, we’re going to try to identify signs of the two diseases 10 to 15 years before the first problems begin to occur, and if we can, far better treatment options will be possible."

Currently, diagnosis of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease often comes too late for effective treatment options. If the PANDA project is successful in detecting the disorders earlier, it could lead to more effective treatment options for patients, allowing them to live better and longer lives.

About the PANDA Project

Innovation Fund Denmark is providing DKK 15 million in funding for the PANDA Project, which has a total budget of DKK 26 million. The roles and responsibilities are divided as follows:

  • Rigshospitalet University is performing clinical tests and data collection.

  • T&W Engineering is responsible for integrating the different sensors into the ear-EEG device and developing the diagnostic support system that healthcare professionals use.

  • Furthermore, Aarhus University is responsible for creating the biomarker algorithms for the project.

The ear-EEG device can be used at home and over a longer period of time, allowing researchers to examine patients in their everyday lives and track changes in sleep patterns and treatment effects. This makes the technology a good screening tool that can be used at home, just like a blood pressure meter. In the long run, this could make it easier to diagnose patients with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease and provide far better treatment options than what is currently available.

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