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New lamps for old?

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

By David Jolley

This week an enthusiastic friend rang to say that doctors will soon be unnecessary in the diagnosis of dementia. He had seen a story on TV about work being done in Cambridge – Artificial Intelligence and brain scans can do better than doctors Artificial Intelligence may diagnose dementia in a day – BBC News

There are people in our Dementia Conversations group who will be excited by this – just as much as my friend. Others will expect me to put a dampener on the expectations – we are used to the hype of press releases spluttering out in the cold light of day and beyond the call for research funding.

Our Friday in-house seminars divert every few weeks to a session linked with the brain scan specialists. It is a fascinating experience as we are treated to interpretation of scans online – the pictures set in the context of clinical presentations from the team looking after each patient. The combination of scanning and clinical assessment – supplemented by time and careful follow up – is impressively effective.

It is the combination which works – and the scans alone give empty information and guidance. All findings and interpretations have to be applied with the world of biology and humanity in which an individual is living and will live and die. Those patients who are scanned in Salford represent a small minority of the people with dementia who become known to services. The prospect of making such scans and such interpretive discussions available to everyone is mind-blowing for Greater Manchester, let alone the whole country, let alone the whole world. And do we need this to be able to help people with the condition?

I would say not at all. A good diagnosis is achieved by taking a history, examining the patient, obtaining and interpreting essential investigations – and staying in touch and following up – Intervening and treating flexibly as needs arise and change.

The Guardian’s presentation and discussion of this advance is more measured: Artificial intelligence could be used to diagnose dementia | Dementia | The Guardian

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