A new evidence-informed app that uses games to track users’ brain health may aid in the timely detection of dementia among older Australians.
While detection of dementia has typically relied on the person or someone close to them recognising and reporting signs of cognitive decline to a health professional, the BrainTrack app aims to disrupt the status quo by equipping people with information and knowledge to detect these signs and start conversations much earlier than they may typically occur, according to Alfred Deakin Professor Alison Hutchinson, Director of the Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research in Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation (IHT).
BrainTrack has been developed by Dementia Australia and Deakin University’s Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute (A2I2), following co-design with people living with or at risk of dementia and health professionals, such as cognition specialists and GPs.
BrainTrack presents users with evidence-informed games that track the users’ cognitive performance.
‘Each game within the app assesses aspects of cognitive performance that can be affected by dementia,’ says Professor Hutchinson.
‘The app provides insight reports that let the user see how they are tracking over time in each game and guidance on what to do with the results, including a recommendation to contact their GP if they notice a change in their performance.’
A study led by Professor Hutchinson to evaluate the app has been made possible thanks to new funding from the Medical Research Futures Fund.
The more than $1 million funding will enable IHT and Dementia Australia to evaluate BrainTrack across a range of criteria, including how BrainTrack users and GPs perceive the app and its influence on users’ knowledge of dementia.
Timely detection of dementia is critical, says Professor Hutchinson, as it offers a window of opportunity for health professionals to intervene with strategies to delay disease progression, initiate treatments, and implement strategies to preserve independence and optimise quality of life.
‘There is evidence that indicates people typically wait 1.9 years between first noticing the symptoms of cognitive decline and reporting them to a health professional,’ she says.
‘Dementia is the second leading cause of death and the greatest cause of disability in older Australians. By 2030, it’s forecasted that 75 million people will be living with dementia. However, these figures could be substantially higher, as research has confirmed that up to 75% of people with dementia in the community go undetected.
‘BrainTrack aims to educate people who may be at risk of dementia about the signs of cognitive decline, where and how to seek support, and how to modify their risk of dementia by increasing their physical activity, addressing their diet and nutrition, and taking other preventative measures.’
The study has the potential to transform the diagnosis and treatment of dementia, says IHT director Alfred Deakin Professor Anna Peeters.
‘Digital technologies such as smart phones and telehealth have the potential to provide consumers with greater autonomy in their health and wellbeing,’ she says.
‘At IHT, we are proud to be at the forefront of evaluating these breakthroughs in digital technologies to make sure consumers, their friends, families and healthcare professionals have robust and relevant evidence to base their choices on.
‘If this study finds that using BrainTrack increases awareness of brain health and promotes help-seeking for cognitive concerns, then many vulnerable Australians may be supported earlier.
‘People who download BrainTrack are encouraged to volunteer for this study by opting-in to the research when they first open the app.’
How do we improve care for older people?
This conversation with Professor Hutchinson, one of Australia’s leading nursing professors, examines how partnership-centred care could help overcome some systemic issues in aged care.