Developments in scalable strategies for detecting early markers of cognitive decline
Transl Psychiatry. 2022 Nov 9;12(1):473. doi: 10.1038/s41398-022-02237-w.
Effective strategies for early detection of cognitive decline, if deployed on a large scale, would have individual and societal benefits. However, current detection methods are invasive or time-consuming and therefore not suitable for longitudinal monitoring of asymptomatic individuals. For example, biological markers of neuropathology associated with cognitive decline are typically collected via cerebral spinal fluid, cognitive functioning is evaluated from face-to-face assessments by experts and brain measures are obtained using expensive, non-portable equipment. Here, we describe scalable, repeatable, relatively non-invasive and comparatively inexpensive strategies for detecting the earliest markers of cognitive decline. These approaches are characterized by simple data collection protocols conducted in locations outside the laboratory: measurements are collected passively, by the participants themselves or by non-experts. The analysis of these data is, in contrast, often performed in a centralized location using sophisticated techniques. Recent developments allow neuropathology associated with potential cognitive decline to be accurately detected from peripheral blood samples. Advances in smartphone technology facilitate unobtrusive passive measurements of speech, fine motor movement and gait, that can be used to predict cognitive decline. Specific cognitive processes can be assayed using 'gamified' versions of standard laboratory cognitive tasks, which keep users engaged across multiple test sessions. High quality brain data can be regularly obtained, collected at-home by users themselves, using portable electroencephalography. Although these methods have great potential for addressing an important health challenge, there are barriers to be overcome. Technical obstacles include the need for standardization and interoperability across hardware and software. Societal challenges involve ensuring equity in access to new technologies, the cost of implementation and of any follow-up care, plus ethical issues.