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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Experts find new tool to accelerate Alzheimer’s diagnosis

A national collaboration between experts from 17 institutions has unveiled a new tool to accelerate a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Developed specifically for clinical neuropsychologists by the Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT) Memory Clinics initiative, UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre (BMC), and the CSIRO, the ADNeT Neuropsychological Norming Tool (ANNT) promises to speed up the rate at which a potential diagnosis can be formulated and communicated to the client.

Currently, Australians can face delays of approximately three years on average between initial symptom presentation and a formal diagnosis of dementia. This increases to an average of seven years for some young-onset dementias, such as frontotemporal dementia.

ADNeT Memory Clinics Co-Lead, Professor Sharon Naismith from BMC, University of Sydney,  says, “An early and timely diagnosis of dementia is of critical importance for securing high-quality care for a client. This includes enabling potential preventive programs to maximise their quality of life.”

Edward Caser, an Ambassador for CHeBA, says his mum’s Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis took nearly five years.  

“It took three years before we were even referred to a geriatrician,” says Mr Caser.

“From that original appointment it took another 18-24 months of various memory-related tests before she was diagnosed.”

Neuropsychological assessment is essential for evaluating memory and other thinking skills that often decline early in dementia. It increases sensitivity to early diagnosis and improves clinical decision-making and outcomes for clients, particularly in complex cases. 

The ANNT speeds up the assessment process by automatically calculating normative data and producing a summary report from a comprehensive range of gold-standard neuropsychological tests. Normative data – assessment data compared to similar persons in the general population – allows neuropsychologists to evaluate patients’ cognitive performance in fine-grained detail and in turn determine whether a cognitive disorder such as dementia is likely.

By rapidly increasing the convenience of obtaining normative data and subsequent summary reports, memory and cognition clinic clients, who may already be facing a stressful diagnosis process, will have less waiting time before they receive their diagnosis,  setting a new standard for how neuropsychological evaluation can be conducted. 

Mr Caser says it gives him great hope to know that a better tool has been developed to enhance the diagnosis process, given how lengthy and stressful it was for his Mum.

An estimated 500,000 Australians are living with dementia today and it is the leading cause of death in women and the second leading cause of disease burden and death in Australians over the age of 65 years. The benefit of the ANNT to both clinicians and clients seeking a more convenient, rapid and high-quality assessment of cognitive disorders, such as dementia, is invaluable.

“By automating the time-and labour-intensive aspects of neuropsychological report development, the ANNT frees neuropsychologists to focus their highly specialised skills on areas for which they are most valuable: the formulation of a clinical diagnosis, and the development of cognitive interventions to boost access to quality post-diagnostic care,” Professor Naismith said.

ADNeT Deputy Director and co-lead of the Memory Clinics initiative, Scientia Professor Perminder Sachdev of CHeBA, UNSW Sydney, said that he was delighted with the launch of ANNT which will facilitate the work of neuropsychologists working in memory clinics and help standardise the assessment of patients with mild cognitive impairment or dementia. He acknowledged the work of Drs Nicole Kochan, Adam Bentvelzen, and Inga Mehrani of CHeBA in bringing this tool to its maturity, and Professor Naismith acknowledged the work of Dr Johannes Michaelian from BMC at the University of Sydney.   

To register your interest for accessing the Australian Dementia Network Neuropsychology Norming Tool, visit: https://www.australiandementianetwork.org.au/initiatives/memory-clinics-network/annt-registration-form/

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