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New smartphone app helps detect dementia symptoms early

A screenshot of the iTUG app is seen in this image provided by Digital Solutions.

An Osaka systems development firm has teamed up with doctors to develop a smartphone app to detect early signs of dementia.

The free "iTUG" app is designed to detect walking impediments indicative of possible dementia by measuring a user's walking speed and time, among other factors.

Until now, the main check of walking impediments was the "time up and go" (TUG) test -- hence "iTUG" -- in which healthcare workers time how long it takes a patient to stand, walk 3 meters, do a U-turn and return to their seat.

The iTUG app uses the smartphone's internal sensors to measure the speed of the subject's movements backwards and forwards, up and down, and left to right as they walk, and produces a score out of 100 indicating the level of impairment, if there is any. A score of less than 50 points suggests the possibility of light walking impairment.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were about 4.62 million people in Japan with dementia in 2012. The ministry estimates that number will surge to some 7 million people in 2025. The new app will be helpful in recognizing those with normal pressure hydrocephalus, a type of dementia that is considered "curable" and which at least 300,000 people are said to have, by identifying walking difficulties early. The iTUG app is also a promising tool for caregivers administering rehabilitation programs, and hopes are high that it will allow for accurate observation of rehabilitation effectiveness -- a particular concern in Japan's quickly graying society.

A clinical trial of the app was conducted with the cooperation of Shigeki Yamada, a neurosurgeon and the deputy head of Otowa Hospital's Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus Center in Kyoto.

"As the number of people needing nursing care continues to rise, it (this app) should allow us to make appropriate risk evaluations and administer treatment early," Yamada said.

The iTUG app is currently only available for Apple's iPhone, but the developers are looking to create versions for other smartphones.

(Japanese original by Akira Matsumoto, Sports News Department)

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