EEG project measures Alzheimer's and Parkinson's through the ear

April 24, 2023

Serious brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are usually diagnosed too late for optimal benefit from available drug and non-drug treatments. A new research project will develop and test a scalable home healthcare technology that could have a major impact on early detection, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of both diseases.

Rigshospitalet and Aarhus University have joined forces with the Danish health technology company, T&W Engineering, and they have just received DKK 15 million in funding from Innovation Fund Denmark for their potentially groundbreaking project for people with serious brain diseases. 

The project will develop and test a so-called ear-EEG device that is very similar to a pair of in-ear headphones. This specially developed measuring device will be tested on patient groups both with and without Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The aim is to examine whether it is possible to use the technology to screen patients for the two serious brain diseases. The ear-EEG technology reads the brain's electrical activity and gently maps sleep patterns. Recent research shows that a person's sleep patterns can indicate early signs of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. 

"Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are diseases that creep up over many years. They’re usually only discovered when you start to develop cognitive and memory-related problems, sleep disturbances or disturbances in the musculoskeletal system, for example. Diagnosis is generally so late that the only treatment option is to treat the symptoms. In the project, we’re going to try to identify signs of the two diseases 10-15 years before the first problems begin to occur, and if we can, far better treatment options will be possible," said Professor Preben Kidmose, who is the head of the Center for Ear-EEG at Aarhus University. 

Serious brain diseases are extremely burdensome for patients and their relatives. They are also a growing financial burden for the healthcare sector – not just in Denmark, but internationally. According to the Danish Dementia Research Centre, around 12,000 have a Parkinson's diagnosis in Denmark, while more than 100,000 are living with dementia. The Alzheimer's Association has estimated that just 40% of all Danish women with dementia have actually been diagnosed, while the figure for Danish men is around 60%. 

The small device is placed in the ear to measure electrical activity in the brain. The method measures the extremely small voltage changes on the surface of the skin caused by electrical activity in the brain's neurons, and it is a far more gentle and less intrusive technology than traditional sleep measurements. 

The project is called PANDA, which stands for "Progression Assessment in Neurodegenerative Disorders of Aging," and it will run for four years The PANDA-project device is also equipped with an oximeter to measure oxygen in the blood, a thermometer, and a microphone that can listen to breathing and heartbeat, much like a stethoscope. 

"We hope that we’ll be able to use the ear-EEG to replace in part the existing and somewhat more troublesome sleep monitoring. We’ll try to make the technology so simple that it can be used at home and over a longer period of time. Ideally, we hope it will be possible to measure your own sleep over a few days, weeks, or even months every year. The aim is to identify changes that may be early signs of serious brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and to diagnose patients more easily and earlier than today. This would be a great advantage," said Professor Poul Jørgen Jennum, Doctor of Medical Science and head of the Danish Centre for Sleep Medicine at Rigshospitalet. 

AU release