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Medical Moment: Artificial intelligence prevents dementia?

Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 8:50 PM EST
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Artificial intelligence, or AI, allows machines to work more efficiently and solve problems faster.

It’s all the buzz in the healthcare industry right now. It’s already in the operating room with robot-assisted surgeries and behind the scenes safe-guarding your private health records.

And now, AI may also help to prevent some diseases.

The same technology used in self driving cars, smart assistants and disease mapping may also help to solve one of healthcare’s biggest problems—how to stave off dementia.

“What we’re trying to do is intervene at that point when it starts to sharply decline to bring those skills back up,” says Adams Woods from the University of Florida Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory.

A team at the University of Florida is using targeted transcranial direct current stimulation to save memories.

“It’s a weak form of electrical stimulation applied to the scalp,” Woods says. “And this weak electric current actually has the ability to alter how the neurons behave.”

Electrical stimulation isn’t new. But combining it with AI to personalize the treatment is new.

“Everyone is different,” Woods says. “It’s like a fingerprint our brains, right?”

Using an MRI, researchers can see the thickness of the skull and the amounts of certain tissue.

“We try to look at anatomy of each person’s brain,” says Ruogu Fang from the University of Florida College of Engineering.

“We’re using artificial intelligence to dive into this really robust individual data and really understand what are the patterns of current and where in the brain are most associated with positive clinical outcomes,” Woods says.

In a pilot study, TDCS combined with cognitive training improved cognition and brain function after only two weeks. Larger studies are now underway in hopes of saving memories in the future.

“When you talk to patients, which we have, and you say, ‘okay, how long, how long for you would be meaningful?’ Woods says. “You might be expecting a year, five years, 10 years. And the answer comes back days. We think we can do better than days. We think we can do better than weeks, but this technology is our best push right now to try to move this needle further and further back.”

A new larger study is underway using data from the national institute on aging. Using this information, researchers believe they can not only personalize dementia prevention, but also many other medical problems. Electrical stimulation is being used for now.

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