Around 850,000 people in the UK are thought to be living with dementia. Characterised by a loss of memory alongside a decline in language, problem solving and cognitive skills, the condition affects one in 14 people over the age of 65, and one in six over the age of 80. It is the leading cause of death in the UK, but an early diagnosis can improve a patient’s outlook and help them live a fuller life with the condition.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left many elderly people struggling to access neurological care. This means clinicians are less able than ever before to monitor their patients’ disease progression, adjust treatment plans or screen for new-onset dementia. But remote monitoring of the disease could help to increase the accessibility of neurological care.
The Mindset app, developed by NHS doctor in training Hamzah Selim and his team, is designed to screen for the early signs of dementia through three quick diagnostic tests. In the first one, users must complete a number and symbol matching task, followed by a Stroop test with words and colours. This is followed by an augmented reality (AR) task, where users need to find three red balloons inside the room they’re in within 30 seconds. The artificial intelligence (AI) inside the app then flags any sign of neurological abnormalities.
Currently, users who download the app through the Apple app store are still helping build the AI and teach it how the brain works, so it can get better at noticing potential dementia signs. Medical Device Network caught up with Selim to find out more about the benefits of early dementia diagnosis and the future of the company.
Chloe Kent: How does Mindset work?
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Hamzah Selim: It takes clinical consultation and puts it on to a phone. In practice, normally a doctor will start by taking a medical history from you and asking some questions. Mindset does the same through a text-message conversation. It then goes through some screening and diagnostic tests in order to understand how your brain works, which are specific to dementia symptoms. Then it uses an AI to understand that data, just as a doctor would use their clinical knowledge, and outputs a care plan.
CK: What are the benefits of early diagnosis when it comes to dementia?
HS: In this pandemic, people with dementia are extremely vulnerable so they can’t go out to seek care. What we’re seeing at the moment is that one in three patients feel like giving up, because they’re isolated by themselves.
Generally, patients don’t actually pass away from dementia but from resulting behaviours – for example, they forget to drink water. By receiving a diagnosis early on, you get that sort of management plan put around you and your family can take care of you.
The other argument in favour of early intervention is that by giving medication early, there’s a lot if evidence that we can change the prognosis of individuals significantly.
CK: What prompted you to set up Mindset?
HS: The penny dropped when I was at Imperial College London, doing a research year in neuroscience. I was in this lecture where we were learning about the test where a doctor has you follow their finger with your eyes, and learning that it’s actually quite difficult because you’re looking for little flickers in the eyes and it needs a really experienced doctor to be any good.
So I was feeling quite hopeless and miserable and got distracted and went on Snapchat on my phone. I think it was 2018, so there were all these dog filter masks and I was just playing on that. And I thought, “Oh, this dog filter’s using eye tracking to put the ears on my head – if the phone can do this, surely we can use it do to what we do in clinic.” Because it’d be on your phone, anyone can use it at any time, and make that little piece of care so much more accessible to everyone.
That was the basic concept, just taking clinical tests and putting them on to a device. We saw that dementia was a huge problem and that there was such a lack of care, and things unfolded from that.
CK: What stage is Mindset at in terms of funding?
HS: We’re just doing our series A round at the moment. We launched the campaign and it got lots of traction; I think it charted at number five on the medical section of the app store on the first day. The British public really love to get behind a unifying campaign and it’s just so easy to use. People were sharing the badges and tagging each other so it just morphed into this trend. We’re hoping to get a little bit of funding so we can build out these tests a bit further.
Also what we’re seeing at the moment within our tests is that mental health is a huge problem. I’d love to use that funding to build another app, taking the same principles of actually doing the diagnostic tests we perform in clinic but this time more specific to mental health and perhaps depression, especially given this horrible pandemic we’re in; just keep scaling up and providing more care to more people through the phone.