In the coming decades, doctors expect to see an unprecedented number of dementia patients—with Alzheimer’s leading the way. But making an accurate diagnosis is a challenge because symptoms vary in different people.

As part of an increasingly busy research area at the University, two neuroscience studies may help doctors more accurately assess, predict, and monitor cognitive changes. One uses artificial intelligence to predict the onset of dementia, and another uses an online test to track a patient’s progress.

“Patients walk in and doctors have to try to understand where they fall on the dementia spectrum,” says Vijaya B. Kolachalama, an associate professor of medicine and expert on using computers to aid medical diagnoses.

Kolachalama’s research team, including Rhoda Au, a professor of epidemiology, anatomy, and neurobiology, and the director of neuropsychology at the Framingham Heart Study, developed a deep-learning algorithm that assesses and identifies if a person’s memory loss is due to Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. And the algorithm has been matching or outperforming clinicians’ success in diagnosing. Their latest research was published in June 2022 in Nature Communications.

BU researchers have built a computer model that can recognize Alzheimer’s and related dementias from brain scans.

While Kolachalama hopes to speed up diagnosis, Andrey Vyshedskiy, a neuroscientist and Metropolitan College lecturer, wants to enable doctors and patients to track cognitive level over time more effectively. He helped develop the Boston Cognitive Assessment, an innovative, free, online test that gives results in minutes and can be used to monitor memory and cognition over weeks and months.

Vyshedskiy and his team completed a control study of 400 patients—50 with clinically diagnosed Alzheimer’s or mild dementia—to validate the accuracy of the testing platform. The results were published in March 2022 in BMC Neurology.

“People get really anxious about their memory and brain health,” he says, “so this is a way to check themselves and establish a baseline.”

Each year, as millions around the world grapple with the heart-wrenching realization that someone they love has dementia, such tools may improve understanding and illuminate the path toward a cure.