Whether technologies are used to diagnose neurocognitive disorders, treat them, improve quality of life for those affected, or support collaboration with their care partners, they are certainly opening up unique prospects. Welcome to the future!
1. Technology for detecting neurocognitive disorders
The innermost layer of the eye is called the retina, which is what optometrists and ophthalmologists scan during routine examinations to detect certain eye. One such exam is an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT ), which creates a highly precise image of the eye. So precise, in fact, that it could be used to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, since the image produced allows us to observe the smallest of blood vessels. Scientists believe there is a link between Alzheimer’s disease and a less dense than normal network of blood vessels. If research proves this true, a non-invasive, inexpensive exam that’s already on the market may just be around the corner!
Gait disturbances and imbalance are another early sign of a neurocognitive disorder. They may be difficult to detect with the naked eye in the early stages, but not for a machine! Gait analyses using sensors and detection algorithms are currently being developed and could potentially be used as clinical assessment tools to predict the onset of neurocognitive disorders.
2. Technologies for treating cognitive impairment
Carbon nanotubes are tiny fibres with remarkable properties. Discovered in the early 1990s, they now make it possible to consider manufacturing neural prosthetic devices, which could promote neuronal growth, restore impaired connections between nerve cells, and stimulate the formation of new connections.
Nanogels open worlds of possibilities for the future treatment of neurocognitive disorders. They could enhance the delivery of drugs across the brain’s protective barrier, capture the beta-amyloid accumulations characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and regenerate. Nanogels can be administered in several ways: as an injection, orally, by inhalation, or by absorption through the skin or eyes.
3. Technologies that facilitate everyday life and independence for people with cognitive impairments
COACH (Cognitive Orthosis for Assisting aCtivities in the Home) is a cognitive device that uses artificial intelligence to create a supportive environment to help people with neurocognitive disorders accomplish daily tasks. The system uses a camera and sensors to monitor the person, notifying them if they make a mistake in the sequence of a task, or showing them a step-by-step video presentation. The COOK (Cognitive Orthosis for Cooking) assistant even turns off the stove if the person leaves it on and walks away for too long or leaves the house.
A communication app
CIRCA (Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid) is a multimedia application developed to facilitate conversation between caregivers and people with neurocognitive disorders who have speech problems or memory impairment. The open communication encouraged by the app promotes greater equality, personalized care, and a better quality of life. The app is still under study, however, much like the other technologies presented here.
While these technological advances may feel like they’re straight out of a Black Mirror episode, they’re in fact innovative projects being worked on by research teams and which-who knows-may be just a few years away!