High School Student Designs New Tool for Early Diagnosis of Cognitive Impairment

Sherry Christiansen
By Sherry ChristiansenJuly 9, 2018

Having a relative with Alzheimer’s disease can make a strong impact on a person’s life, at any age — as Nikhil Patel, a high school student knows full well. Patel’s grandmother recently passed from complications of Alzheimer’s, which inspired him to design a new tool for the early diagnosis of cognitive impairment.

“Once she passed away, I committed myself to making sure that no one would ever have to suffer like she did again,” Patel said in a recent interview with the Orlando Sentinel. Read more about Patel and his innovative method for the early diagnosis of cognitive impairment.

Early Diagnosis of Cognitive Impairment Using an App

Patel is a 15-year-old high school sophomore who created an innovative iPad app aimed at detecting the risk of cognitive decline – which is commonly a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Patel’s app features a tool that he designed himself that measures cognitive impairment, based on the brain’s response to conflicting sensory input

The app displays a video with an image of a person speaking. The video image zooms in to show a closeup of the person mouthing specific sounds and words; at the same time, the audio plays a sound that is unlike what the person appears to be saying. For example, the video clearly shows a person mouthing the sound “ba” at the same time as the audio plays the sound “fa.” A problem is detected when the discrepancy between the sound and the visual is not detected by the user in a timely manner.

“By measuring cognitive processing time in those conditions, you can accurately identify the cognitive impairment of the subject,” says Patel.

The app is aimed at helping experts detect cognitive impairment 10-20 years earlier than the disease is presently being diagnosed. The screening was designed as an annual performance tool, to evaluate changes, over time. The tool also helps to identify the difference in cognitive changes specific to various demographics (such as age and sex).

Recently, Patel wrote a research paper about his app that was published in a scientific journal. Patel’s future plans include continuing to contribute to Alzheimer’s and studying computer science at Harvard. The video below shares more about Patel and his app.

How were you or a senior loved one first diagnosed with cognitive impairment? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Sherry Christiansen

Sherry Christiansen

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