New 3-D programme makes it easier to diagnose brain function, allowing faster treatment for stroke and early dementia patients

Retiree Mr Lenny Leow used to spend about three hours a day on the computer, surfing the Internet and playing games. But he was beginning to get a bit forgetful.

A doctor sent him for memory tests conducted by a psychologist. He was given a long list of questions which tested his memory, visual-spatial skills, executive function (ability to do a job), language skills and brain processing speed. It took him about two hours to answer all the questions.

“I was asked things like ‘What is 97 minus 8?’, and to join letters and numbers on a flowchart. The tests made me feel like a fool,” said Mr Leow, 80, who had taken at least three memory tests since he reported having memory difficulties about a year ago.

“I can be a little forgetful at times. I will forget where I put my mobile phone, but it’s not total memory loss. I can still do simple mathematics,” said Mr Leow, a former sales supervisor.

He was introduced to a new 3-D software that was developed to diagnose brain function in stroke and early dementia patients.

Diagnosis test is basically playing a computer game

Conceived by National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), a member of the SingHealth group, and developed by Integrated Health Information Systems, the software simulates real-life activities, such as buying groceries at a supermarket or choosing ingredients for breakfast.

As patients perform the simulated tasks, data from their actions and decisions are tracked and compiled. A diagnosis can be made within 45 minutes, which is up to 80 per cent less than the time needed using conventional tests.

Mr Leow adapted very quickly to the software and even enjoyed himself. “It is so much more interesting than the questions the doctors used to ask me. It’s much faster too. I’m basically playing a computer game.”

Earlier diagnosis of dementia leads to faster treatment

Dr Nagaendran Kandiah, Senior Consultant, Department of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), has been developing the software since 2010. He said: “As a diagnostic tool, the software needs less manpower than traditional tests. This translates to less waiting time at the hospital, earlier diagnosis and faster treatment.”

Although there is currently no cure for dementia, early diagnosis allows treatment to take place sooner and this helps to slow down the onset of the condition. Dr Nagaendran said there are three main stages of dementia: mild, moderate and severe. It takes three to four years for the condition to progress from one stage to another. With early treatment, it could take as long as eight years for a patient’s dementia to deteriorate to the next stage.

Dr Nagaendran said Mr Leow suffers from mild cognitive impairment, which is the stage before mild dementia. The software can be used only by patients with good vision and who are computer literate, but Dr Nagaendran expects the number of elderly people who are computer literate to increase over time.

Meanwhile, his team is looking into ways of making the software more userfriendly, and there are plans to develop touchscreen and multilingual versions. “There are also plans to market this as a home-screening tool that can be prescribed by doctors,” he said.

Did you know that younger people can get dementia too? Read on to learn about young onset dementia.​​

Ref: S13