Supporting brain health and early diagnoses through digital apps

ADI member Dementia Australia has developed an app to help support brain health and encourage more timely dementia diagnoses.

According to the World Alzheimer Report 2021, 75% of all cases of dementia go undiagnosed; in low- and middle-income countries this figure is projected to be as high as 90%.

These alarmingly high rates can be attributed to misinformation, along with a lack of trained specialists, lack of readily available diagnosis tools and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems.

In this blog from Maree McCabe AM, CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree writes about the organisation’s new BrainTrack app which aims to promote better brain health, while also encouraging people to seek an early diagnosis of dementia if it is warranted.

Timely diagnoses for dementia

We know that like any disease, an early diagnosis, ensures better outcomes for both the person diagnosed and their support network.

An early diagnosis of dementia empowers and enables people living with dementia, their families and carers to better understand dementia and to manage their diagnosis on their terms. It also provides the opportunity to access the right support at the right time which can enable people to maintain their independence and functional capacity for as long as possible. Additionally, it also allows for the possibility of health and allied health professionals to be able to provide interventions to help maintain strengths and capacities, improve skill acquisition and promote recovery, enablement and rehabilitation.

Research indicates that the use of allied health services can slow the progression of cognitive and functional decline, improve quality of life and delay or prevent residential aged care admission.

Receiving a diagnosis

A diagnosis of dementia in Australia currently takes an average of three years and across the world, we know that many people face similar wait times to receive a diagnosis.

Within ADI’s World Alzheimer Report 2021: Journey through the diagnosis of dementia, people living with dementia and carers consistently reported lengthy time delays and experiences before being given a diagnosis. One of the most significant roadblocks of diagnosis reported in this survey were the lack of awareness and knowledge about dementia, with changing behaviours often being mistaken for normal ageing, depression or other mental illness.

It is also now common understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on healthcare systems, of which the implications on receiving a diagnosis we are still continuing to see.

The BrainTrack app

In 2023, it is estimated there are over 400,000 Australians living with all forms of dementia. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) figures predict that more than 55 million people globally are living with dementia, which is projected to reach 139 million people by 2050.

In response, Dementia Australia launched a free mobile app, BrainTrack, in October of last year, for people to privately monitor and better understand suspected changes in their cognition over time, thanks to funding from the Australian Government.

Available worldwide, the app engages users to play a series of fun, travel-themed games. If they have concerns, a report of their results can be produced and shared with their clinician or healthcare professional to use as a conversation starter to support an earlier dementia diagnosis.

BrainTrack is not intended to replace a formal cognitive assessment. Instead, it has been designed to support the early identification of cognitive changes over time that may warrant further testing and help to target the most appropriate tools for formal screening and assessment. For those who are remote, in rural communities or unable to physically travel, the use of digital applications, such as BrainTrack can provide even more benefit.

BrainTrack can be used by anyone, anywhere and at any age, including individuals who want to learn more about brain health and healthy ageing. Users are prompted to log-in each month to play the games, which have been developed from validated cognitive testing, and monitor their results. Each game focuses on a specific cognitive domain including executive function, visuospatial function, language, visual recognition and memory.

There are specific resources available within the app or linked to from the app, for doctors and other healthcare professionals, which includes information on interpreting a patient’s results, what the results might mean, and tests that can be used to validate them. There is also information on modifiable risk factors and guidance on having a conversation with a patient.

Within the global dementia community, we know that ensuring an early diagnosis for dementia must become a priority; through this app, we hope to play a part in encouraging more people to start a conversation with their GP or health care professional as soon as they may become concerned about themselves or someone else, and ultimately, improve the lives of the many people affected.

The app is available to everyone, no matter where they live, and is available for download for free through the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Privacy information: Providing data through the app to assist with research and to continue to enhance the app is optional and anonymous. The data is de-identified and only collected if a user provides consent. This data is used for research purposes and is securely held by and accessible to Deakin University only. Dementia Australia and Deakin University do not collect any personal information through BrainTrack. For more information about the research including ethics statement, please go to ‘Learn more about our research’ in the Information section in the BrainTrack app.

Read more information regarding privacy here.

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World Alzheimer Report 2021

The World Alzheimer Report 2021 includes over 50 essays from leading experts from around the world and is supported by findings from 3 key global surveys, which received responses from 1,111 clinicians, 2,325 people with dementia and carers, and over 100 national Alzheimer and dementia associations. Read More