A new study by Loughborough University has found that eye-tracking technology could help identify mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in patients who might develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

The predictive technique is expected to lead to the development of eye-tracking approaches for early diagnosis and intervention of the neurodegenerative disease.

According to the study, eye movement impairments can act as a biomarker for Alzheimer’s and eye-tracking tests can predict patients who are at high risk of developing the disease.

Researchers have been studying eye movement impairments as potential biomarkers of the disease as they are known to occur in the early stages, even before the display of cognitive problems.

According to the Loughborough team, standard cognitive assessments may not always detect the eye movement impairments. However, studies have shown that eye-tracking can detect damage in patients with MCI.

Previous research revealed that people with MCI are at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s compared to those with normal cognition. However, in some cases, MCI returns to normal cognition or may remain stable.

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MCI can be of two types, amnesic MCI (aMCI) and non-amnesic (naMCI). Researchers found that individuals with aMCI have a higher risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s versus healthy adults or naMCI patients.

In the latest study, the team enrolled 42 aMCI patients, 47 people with naMCI, 68 individuals having dementia related to Alzheimer’s and 92 healthy participants.

Subjects were asked to perform simple computer tasks, called antisaccade, which required them to not look at a distractor stimulus.

The antisaccade error rate was measured as the number of times a subject looked at the distractor stimulus. The measurements were taken with equipment that can record eye movements 500 times per second.

The eye-tracking results enabled researchers to distinguish the two types of MCI. Also, it was observed that aMCI patients have eye movement patterns similar to people with Alzheimer’s.

Loughborough University School of Sports, Exercise and Health Sciences researcher Dr Thom Wilcockson said: “The results indicate that it is possible to predict which MCI patients are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

“This would help with monitoring disease progression and may ultimately help identify whether treatments would be effective.”