Scientists are putting to the test an artificial intelligence system that could diagnose dementia based on a single brain scan.
It may also be able to predict whether the condition will remain stable for a long time, deteriorate gradually, or require immediate treatment.
Dementia is currently diagnosed through a series of scans and tests.
Early diagnosis with their system, according to the researchers, could greatly improve patient outcomes.
"If we intervene early, the treatments can kick in early and slow down the progression of the disease while also avoiding more damage," said Prof Zoe Kourtzi of Cambridge University and a fellow of The Alan Turing Institute, a national center for AI and data science.
"And symptoms are likely to appear much later in life, if at all."
Prof. Kourtzi's system compares brain scans of people who are worried they might have dementia to brain scans of thousands of dementia patients and their medical records.
The algorithm can spot patterns in scans that even expert neurologists miss and match them to patient outcomes stored in its database.
Clinics for Alzheimer's Disease
It has been able to diagnose dementia in pre-clinical tests years before symptoms appear, even when there are no obvious signs of damage on a brain scan.
The trial, which will take place at Addenbrooke's Hospital and other memory clinics across the country, will see if it works in a clinical setting alongside other dementia diagnostic methods.
About 500 patients are expected to take part in the first year.
Their results will be sent to their doctors, who will be able to advise them on the best course of treatment if necessary.
The artificial intelligence system, according to consultant neurologist Dr. Tim Rittman, who is leading the study with neuroscientists from Cambridge University, is a "fantastic development."
"These diseases are extremely dangerous to people," he said.
"Anything I can do to increase my confidence in the diagnosis, to give them more information about the disease's likely progression to help them plan their lives is a great thing to be able to do when I'm delivering this information to a patient."
When You're Struggling, It's Natural To
Denis Clark, 75, retired from his job as a meat company executive five years ago and was one of the first to take part in the trial.
Penelope, his wife, noticed he was having trouble remembering things last year.
They're now concerned that he'll develop dementia.
Denis tries to describe his symptoms, but Penelope interjects, saying he's having trouble explaining what's going on.
The couple is concerned that they will have to sell their home to pay for Denis's care.
As a result, Penelope is relieved that they won't have to wait long for a diagnosis and an indication of how dementia will progress.
"Then we'd be able to budget," she explained.
"We'd know if we could take a few vacations as a couple before things deteriorate to the point where I can't take Denis on vacation."
Problems With the Mind
Another of Dr. Rittman's patients, Mark Thompson, 57, said that if the artificial-intelligence system had been available when he started having memory problems 10 months ago, it would have made a big difference to him.
"Before I was diagnosed, I had test after test and at least four scans," he said.
"The medical team was fantastic and went above and beyond to figure out what was wrong with me.
"However, the uncertainty was causing me more... mental problems than the condition itself."
"Did it turn out to be a tumor?" Would they have to work? It was extremely stressful for me not to know what was wrong with me."