How Old is your Brain?

AI-powered analysis reflects risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s
Updated: Jan. 10, 2023 at 9:43 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A new study suggests artificial intelligence can determine how fast the brain ages.

Scientists say a person’s brain can age faster than the rest of their body. With that in mind, researchers at from the University of Southern California created an artificial intelligence program they say can detect if the brain is older than the body - which is a sign for risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The AI program analyzed hundred of MRI brain scans looking for signs of cognitive decline. It was able to indicate early-on signs for Alzheimer and other diseases, even more accurately scientists say than current medical tests.

Brain aging is considered a reliable biomarker for neurodegenerative disease risk. Such risk increases when a person’s brain exhibits features that appear “older” than expected for someone of that person’s age. By tapping into the deep learning capability of the team’s novel AI model to analyze the scans, the researchers can detect subtle brain anatomy markers that are otherwise very difficult to detect and that correlate with cognitive decline. Their findings, published on Tuesday, January 2, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer an unprecedented glimpse into human cognition.

Some 6.5 million Americans deal with Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Governments are just starting to approve medications but there isn’t a cure. The hope is creations like the AI model will pave the way for more tailored interventions.

“Interpretable AI can become a powerful tool for assessing the risk for Alzheimer’s and other neurocognitive diseases,” said said Andrei Irimia, assistant professor of gerontology, biomedical engineering, quantitative & computational biology and neuroscience at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and corresponding author of the study. “The earlier we can identify people at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the earlier clinicians can intervene with treatment options, monitoring, and disease management. What makes AI especially powerful is its ability to pick up on subtle and complex features of aging that other methods cannot and that are key in identifying a person’s risk many years before they develop the condition.”

The study also found certain parts of the brain aged differently between men and women. For men, the section controlling their motor functions ages quicker. However for women, their brain’s right hemisphere (which controls attention and memory) ages slower.


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