Psychologists at the University of Bath in the UK have developed an approach to passively measure brain activity to aid in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Named Fastball electroencephalogram (EEG), the new method is affordable, portable and works on already available technology used in hospitals, thereby making it easily scalable, the team noted.

The method requires subjects to view a series of flashing images on a computer for two minutes, while their brain waves are analysed using an EEG cap.

Funded by the dementia charity BRACE Dementia Research, the study demonstrated the technique’s increased efficiency in detecting minor, subtle changes in brain waves that happen when a person remembers an image.

The method is also passive and does not need the individual undergoing the test to understand the task or provide a response.

The team is currently using the Fastball EEG technology in a study of the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease in partnership with the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) and Bristol Brain Centre at Southmead Hospital.

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University of Bath Department of Psychology lead researcher and cognitive neuroscientist Dr George Stothart said: “Fastball offers a genuinely novel way of measuring how our brain is functioning.

“We are testing the tool in earlier and earlier stages of Alzheimer’s and expanding the type of brain function it can measure, to include language and visual processing.

“This will help us to not only understand Alzheimer’s but also the many other less common forms of dementia.”

The team is set to launch a £100,000 longitudinal study of early dementia with funding from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

It will assess patients with mild cognitive impairment using the new Fastball tool.

In some individuals, mild cognitive impairment is the initial sign of Alzheimer’s, but for several other patients, it is not.

Being able to understand which patients will progress to Alzheimer’s could aid in reducing the age of diagnosis by up to five years, the researchers added.