When we refer to dementia, it commonly refers to one of three types; Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia or frontotemporal dementia.

The issue with these three types of dementia is that some symptoms are shared, while others are not. As a result, diagnosing specific types of dementia can sometimes prove difficult.

The issue with frontotemporal dementia

Perhaps the most difficult is that of frontotemporal dementia, which makes up approximately 10 to 25% of dementia cases worldwide.

It exhibits similar changes to language and behaviour as that of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and as such, is often incorrectly diagnosed.

An earlier diagnosis can help families better plan for their loved one’s future and look into various care services, such as home care and various forms of dementia therapy. Incorrect diagnoses only stall this process, which has called for many researchers to look for ways to better diagnose the different types of dementia.

A better diagnosis

However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Brescia in Brescia, Italy, claims it has been able to do exactly that.

The study revealed a procedure known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which involves placing a large electromagnetic coil on an individual’s head, which then transmits electrical currents to the person’s nerve cells, stimulating them in the process.

In doing this, researchers were able to monitor the electrical signals in the brain and how this can relate to the different types of dementia.

Promising findings

They found that people with Alzheimer’s disease had problems with one particular type of circuit in the brain, but those with frontotemporal dementia had problems with another type of circuit.

By using this as an indicator between the two, researchers were able to accurately distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia with 90% accuracy.

The study also states it was able to help differentiate between healthy brains and those afflicted by dementia.

Researchers were able to recognise healthy brains from those with Alzheimer’s disease with 87% accuracy, and healthy brains from those with frontotemporal dementia with 86% accuracy.

A non-invasive procedure

Head author of the study, Dr Barbara Borroni, says she is pleased with the results and hopes the procedure can eventually be used in hospitals as a non-invasive procedure to test for dementia.

“Current diagnosis methods can be expensive brain scans or invasive lumbar punctures involving a needle inserted in the spine, so it's exciting that we may be able to make the diagnosis quickly and easily with this non-invasive procedure,” she said.

Dr Borroni now hopes the study can be replicated on a larger scale to see if similar conclusions can be made.

“If our results can be replicated with larger studies, this will be very exciting,” she said.

“Doctors might soon be able to quickly and easily diagnose frontotemporal dementia with this non-invasive procedure.

“This disease, unfortunately, can't be cured, but it can be managed - especially if it is caught early.”