CLOSE

Scientists are closing in on a long-sought goal _ a blood test to screen people for possible signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Half a dozen research groups gave new results at a conference on these experimental tests. (July 15)

AP Domestic

An artificial intelligence program analyzing language predicted whether people with no memory or thinking problems would develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life, researchers said. 

The study performed by IBM and funded by drug giant Pfizer found a computerized model analyzing language patterns accurately predicted up to 74% of participants diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The study appeared Thursday in the journal EClinicalMedicine.

The study is the latest in an emerging research field focusing on early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, the memory-robbing disease that afflicts about 5.8 million Americans.

Many researchers are working to develop and study blood tests to detect Alzheimer’s disease before memory and thinking problems occur. Blood tests can potentially be more precise than memory and thinking tests now used to diagnose the disease. The tests also could be a less-expensive way to conduct clinical studies. 

IBM officials say their study of language patterns show another possible tool for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Ajay Royyuru, IBM’s vice president of healthcare and life sciences research, said IBM’s research efforts to track language shows the potential for a non-invasive test that “presents a better window for targeted interventions.”

The study analyzed more than 700 written samples from 270 participants in the decades-old Framingham Heart Study, which has collected detailed medical histories, physical exams and labs test from thousands of participants. Study participants were shown a cookie-theft picture and asked to write a description of the image.  

The samples were collected when study participants showed no signs of memory loss. The study predicted Alzheimer’s disease an average of 7.6 years before participants were diagnosed.

Based on written samples from 80 participants, the study more accurately predicted Alzheimer’s than other methods such as evaluating a genetic susceptibility gene, demographics or psychological tests, the study said. 

Risk factors found in language can include repeating questions, stories and statements, the study said. The study also cited agraphia, or loss of the ability to write, which can lead to errors or less complex language.

Royyuru said tracking language patterns over time could be done as part of a routine physical or behavioral health exam. Doctors might track collect a baseline of a patient’s language skills as a young adult and update the test every 5 years, he said. 

“That is not in normal clinical practice today,” Royyuru said. “The technology allows us to think about this as something that would be possible.”

More: Is this Alzheimer’s drug a breakthrough for millions? Company unveils mixed results

More: Study: Blood test for Alzheimer’s detects signs 20 years before memory, thinking falter

More: Is this drug the most promising development on Alzheimer’s in recent history?

Dr. Oscar Lopez is a professor of neurology and