AGE-WELL researcher finds a way to predict Alzheimer’s disease by tracking driving habits.
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University of Calgary professor Sayeh Bayat, PhD, and a team of researchers found a way to predict preclinical Alzheimer’s disease in an older person with 86 per cent accuracy — using just a GPS tracker and a person’s age.
For her PhD thesis, Bayat had studied older adults — some living with dementia (who were accompanied by family caregivers) and some with no cognitive issues — as they moved about the community by car, transit, bicycle or walking.
While presenting her study at an international research conference, Bayat met a team from Washington University at St. Louis interested in finding out if driving habits could predict preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
"I just want to thank everyone at AGE-WELL for all they do because they have been incredible for me."
– Sayeh Bayat, PhD
Using her research, she and her AGE-WELL/University of Toronto colleagues worked with the Washington University team, including Ganesh Babulal, PhD, and Catherine M. Roe, PhD, to create this study.
The findings showed that those with dementia were more likely to:
Move about the community less, driving slower and closer to home.
Make sudden changes.
Travel less at night.
Drive less to new places or not participate in sporting events.
“The machine learning algorithms were able to identify subtle patterns in driving that were associated with earlier signs of Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Bayat.
She believes that the relationship between older adults and their environments “holds significant information about people’s health and well-being.”
Notably, these findings could be used to inform transportation policies and services and to build community dementia strategies.
About the researcher
Bayat completed her postgraduate research in biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto, with AGE-WELL scientific director Alex Mihailidis, PhD, as her advisor.
During her time with AGE-WELL, Bayat’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, further motivating her research.
Sayeh Bayat, PhD
“I could see first-hand the changes in her life and the challenges she was facing,” she says.
Her studies probing the relationship between older adults and their environments have led to published papers and attracted coverage by the BBC and The New York Times.
Bayat also received an AGE-WELL-University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Graduate Student Award.
In addition to a University of Calgary professor, Bayat is now a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in the Cumming School of Medicine and director of the Healthy City Laboratory.
She continues to explore this fertile field of research at the University of Calgary with the Washington University team and intends to stay involved in AGE-WELL, with a special interest in early-career researchers.
“I just want to thank everyone at AGE-WELL for all they do because they have been incredible for me, for my advancement both through graduate school and now as an early-career researcher,” she says.
"It’s one of the first things I tell my students when they are starting in this field: join AGE-WELL’s EPIC (Early Professionals, Inspired Careers) training program."
– Sayeh Bayat, PhD
Paying it forward
Bayat’s experience with AGE-WELL has led her to encourage her own students to become AGE-WELL trainees.
“AGE-WELL really helped me with transdisciplinary research, how to connect with older adults and stakeholders to learn about their experiences and get connected with researchers and other trainees who have similar interests,” she says.
“It’s one of the first things I tell my students when they are starting in this field: join AGE-WELL’s EPIC (Early Professionals, Inspired Careers) training program. It’s great to have that network to rely on – they’re a really good support system.”
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*Feature photo courtesy of Roe Lab, Washington University at St. Louis.