Study shows artificial intelligence’s potential to predict dementia

AI, combined with MRI scans, has the potential to predict Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia

By Michelle Koidin Jaffee and Todd Taylor

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that a form of artificial intelligence combined with MRI scans of the brain has the potential to predict whether people with a specific type of early memory loss will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia.

UF researchers studied 55 participants who had been diagnosed with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, a condition in which a person has more memory problems than expected for their age.

By applying a type of computer algorithm known as a support vector machine model to a 45-minute MRI brain scan, the researchers reported that the algorithm could predict progression from amnestic mild cognitive impairment to dementia with over 94% accuracy. Furthermore, they reported that the algorithm produced 92.7% accuracy when using a 10-minute MRI brain scan alone.

Of the participants, 14 developed dementia and 41 remained stable over a study period that averaged about 15 months.

“A unique aspect of this study is that we were able to identify the exact areas of the brain that differentiated the two groups. This is crucial for predicting which participants are more likely to develop dementia and is also important for our future research efforts,” said Joseph Gullett, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in PHHP’s department of clinical and health psychology who led the study.

People with amnestic mild cognitive impairment typically experience a change in their ability to remember important information, such as appointments or recent events. The proportion who go on to develop dementia ranges from 17.7% to 40.4%, according to the paper.

“What’s really exciting is the idea that we can use this information to say, ‘OK, you’re at a stage where you’re at high risk to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.’ This can tell us that we need to work full force to apply any number of clinical approaches to attempt to ameliorate these effects, slow this progression,” said study co-author Adam Woods, Ph.D., associate director of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory and an associate professor of clinical and health psychology.