Fastball test hoped to improve early dementia and Alzheimer’s detection

New plans are currently underway to develop what is being referred to as a “revolutionary test” called Fastball. £1.5 million in funding has been awarded by NIHR to researchers at the University of Bath and Bristol, in collaboration with Cumulus Neuroscience, who are leading the study to improve early detection of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

This project is one of six announced as part of NIHR’s £11 million investment to develop enhanced digital approaches for early detection and diagnosis for dementia.

Fastball is an image recognition test which involves presenting a person with a series of images to remember. The images are then displayed again  at a very fast rate, interspliced with pictures they have not seen. The test uses electroencephalography (EEG) which measures brain activity using easy-to-use headsets. The use of EEG enables researchers to see brain waves from areas of the brain that recognise images, highlighting whether the person remembers the pictures or not.

NIHR’s funding will allow researchers to expand the assessment of the Fastball test, to determine whether it can diagnose dementia earlier. In previous research, it has been revealed that the test can detect small, subtle changes in brain waves which occur when a person remembers an image. The researchers have also been able to demonstrate that this response changes as a person develops dementia. These findings offer hope that detecting these changes could potentially help to diagnose the disease earlier.

Fastball is completely passive, meaning the person conducting the test does not need to understand the task, or be aware of their memory response.  The test is also portable, which will allow tests to be carried out in a patient’s home if required.

Fastball will be tested on more than 1,000 patients over the next five years, in a dementia clinic at Southmead Hospital in Bristol – with researchers aiming to include a diverse range of participants. Additionally, two GP surgeries will trial Fastball to learn how and where they could implement the test in the NHS at large, whilst estimating the potential savings the test could incur for the NHS.

Fastball also continues to be supported by South West-based dementia charity BRACE, whose ongoing support has helped elevate the team’s research.

Dr Liz Coulthard, associate professor in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol and neurologist at North Bristol NHS Trust, added: “As we adopt new treatments into clinical practice, we will need to scale-up our ability to diagnose people at an early stage of Alzheimer’s and avoid language barriers. Fastball offers the opportunity to improve Alzheimer’s diagnosis equitably.”