Currently, doctors rely on face-to-face questions and answers to diagnose cognitive decline, but new peer-reviewed research suggests that music may help make EEG-based testing viable.
Israeli researchers claim to have developed a cognitive decline warning system that works by tracking brain function while elderly people listen to music.
People taking the test are asked to complete tasks such as pressing a button when a specific instrument plays while wearing a three-electrode pad on their heads.
The pad is linked to a machine that monitors brain activity. An algorithm analyses the data to determine whether the brain function indicates cognitive decline, and if so, to what extent.
Neta Maimon, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University, devised the new 15-minute test, which has been tested on dozens of elderly people in new peer-reviewed research. The same people were also tested for cognitive decline using standard assessments, and the results from both tests were largely comparable.
She believes that, with further development, evaluation, and regulatory approval, the test could “improve the quality of life of millions around the world” by providing more accessible screening than today’s cognitive tests, which are time-consuming for doctors and typically reserved for people who already have concerns. She claimed that hers was mostly automated and could be used as a routine test.
Cognitive decline refers to difficulties in a person’s brain functions such as thinking, memory, and concentration that go beyond what is normal with ageing.
“Our method allows for the monitoring of cognitive capability and the early detection of cognitive decline.” It could do so through simple and accessible means, such as a quick and simple test that can be performed in any clinic,” Maimon explained.
“Screening tests are widely used to diagnose a wide range of physiological problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast cancer.” However, no method for routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues has been developed to date.”
The research was conducted at Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, with Prof. Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience supervising.
Doctors typically diagnose cognitive decline through a face-to-face examination that includes questions and tasks. A more objective method exists, but it requires a painful and invasive procedure to extract spinal fluid for testing. There has been significant research into a noninvasive objective method, some of which has focused on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or scalp electroencephalogram (EEG), but no such method is currently in widespread use.
Maimon employs an EEG machine to assess electrical activity in the brain as participants complete her music test. A combination of brain activity patterns and data on how quickly people completed tasks, such as pressing a button when a specific instrument plays, provides scientists with a strong indication of cognitive status.
The test employs an unusually small Israeli-made EEG machine produced by Intrator’s Neurosteer startup. Maimon claims that using a portable device allows her approach to be used for mobile testing in nursing homes and clinics.
According to Maimon, the approach requires further development and evaluation but has great potential.
“Today, millions of people around the world suffer from cognitive decline and its dire consequences, and their numbers will only grow in the coming decades,” she said.
“Our method could pave the way for effective cognitive monitoring of the general population, detecting cognitive decline in its early stages, when treatment and prevention of severe decline is possible.”