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SPOTLIGHT ON ...

Juan Fernandez Montenegro, PhD researcher, School of Computer Science and Mathematics

Developing Virtual Reality Tests To Help Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Dementia is a syndrome characterised by the decline of mental skills, such as memory, reasoning, language or perceptual interpretation. Alzheimer's is a dementia disease that usually affects elderly people and is the most common type of condition with the number of cases increasing constantly over the last decade.

Learning new information is one of the most noticeable symptoms and when the condition advances, sufferers experience disorientation, mood and behaviour changes and difficulty in speaking, writing and walking.

Juan Fernandez Montenegro is in the second year of his PhD, which is focused on designing and implementing novel cognitive tests for dementia sufferers that could help doctors to evaluate a patient's condition and determine if Alzheimer's is present.

Juan explains, "Detecting dementia at an early stage is important in order to slow down its progress and there are many cognitive tests - intrusive and non-intrusive - available for doctors to diagnose Alzheimer's."

"The work will engage with different disciplines to provide a working and flexible system for monitoring, testing and training of patients and people close to them - both relatives and nursing personnel - with the aim of developing mechanisms to monitor the patients' behaviour in a non-intrusive way. Key problems associated with non-intrusive tests will be identified in order to suggest novel approaches based on new technologies, such as virtual reality."

To demonstrate, see here a link to a video which demonstrates part of a test developed for Alzheimer's detection. The first ,VOM (Virtual Objects Memorization), is a memory test where the patient has to recognize and memorise the objects that are shown in the room. During the second test, AOR (Abnormal Objects Recognition), the patient has to identify the abnormalities in the room and at some point an avatar appears in front of them and they have to move it following some instructions.

This multidisciplinary project combines elements from the areas of computer vision, machine learning, optics and mental health nursing. Thanks to new technologies, eye movements combined with machine learning and image processing will provide personalised information about the patient's condition and useful feedback to the family and caregivers.

Juan values the opportunity of undertaking this research - as he says, "If early diagnosis results in delaying the onset of the disease, patients' quality of life will be much improved, as well as reductions in the total cost of caring for people with dementia. That's reality - not virtual".