Investigating the links between facial recognition and Alzheimer’s disease

Summary: The study assesses whether problems with facial processing and recognition in Alzheimer’s disease are the result of impaired memory or deficits in visual processing.


In recent years, Alzheimer’s disease has been on the rise worldwide and is rarely diagnosed at an early stage when it can still be effectively controlled.

Using artificial intelligence, KTU researchers conducted a study to identify whether human-computer interfaces could be adapted for people with memory problems to recognize an object visible in front of them.

Rytis Maskeliūnas, a researcher at the Department of Multimedia Engineering at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), considers that the classification of visible information on the face is an everyday human function: “While communicating, the face “tells” us the context of conversation, especially from an emotional point of view, but can we identify visual stimuli based on brain signals?

The visual processing of the human face is complex. Information such as a person’s identity or emotional state can be perceived by us by analyzing faces. The aim of the study was to analyze a person’s ability to process contextual information from the face and detect how a person responds.

The face can indicate the first symptoms of the disease.

According to Maskeliūnas, many studies show that brain diseases can potentially be analyzed by examining facial muscles and eye movements, since degenerative brain disorders affect not only memory and cognitive functions, but also the cranial nervous system associated with facial (especially eye) movements mentioned above.

Dovilė Komolovaitė, a graduate of the KTU Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, a co-author of the study, shared that the research has clarified whether a patient with Alzheimer’s disease visually processes visible faces in the brain in the same way as people without the illness.

“The study uses data from an electroencephalograph, which measures electrical impulses in the brain,” says Komolovaitė, who is currently studying for a master’s degree in the Artificial Intelligence program at the Faculty of Informatics.

In this study, the experiment was performed on two groups of individuals: healthy and affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“The brain signals of a person with Alzheimer’s are usually significantly noisier than those of a healthy person,” Komolovaitė says, emphasizing that this correlates with a reason that makes it more difficult for a person to focus and be attentive when experiencing the symptoms. symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Photos of people’s faces were shown during the study.

The study selected a group of older people made up of women over 60 years of age: “Advanced age is one of the main risk factors for dementia, and since the effects of gender were noted on brain waves, the study is more accurate when only one gender group is chosen.”

During the study, each participant performed experiments lasting up to an hour, during which photographs of human faces were shown.

According to the researcher, these photos were selected according to several criteria: in the analysis of the influence of emotions, neutral and fearful faces are shown, while in the analysis of the familiarity factor, known and randomly chosen people are indicated to the subjects. study participants.

To find out if a person correctly sees and understands a face, study participants were asked to press a button after each stimulus to indicate whether the displayed face is inverted or correct.

“Even at this stage, an Alzheimer’s patient makes mistakes, so it is important to determine whether the deterioration of the object is due to memory or vision processes,” says the researcher.

See also

This shows a diagram of the study.

Inspired by real-life interactions with Alzheimer’s patients.

Maskeliūnas reveals that his work with Alzheimer’s disease began with his collaboration with the Huntington’s Disease Association, which opened his eyes to what these many neurodegenerative diseases are really like.

The researcher also had direct contact with Alzheimer’s patients: “I saw that the diagnosis is usually confirmed too late when the brain is already irreversibly damaged. While there is no effective cure for this disease, the process can be stopped and sustained by gaining a few years of healthy life.”

The visual processing of the human face is complex. The image is in the public domain

Today we can see how human-machine interaction is adapted to ease the lives of people with physical disabilities. Controlling a robotic hand by “thinking” or a paralyzed person typing text by imagining letters is not a new concept. Still, trying to understand the human brain is probably one of the most challenging tasks left today.

In this study, the researchers worked with data from standard electroencephalography equipment, however, Maskeliūnas emphasizes that to create a practical tool, it would be better to use data collected from invasive microelectrodes, which can more accurately measure the activity of neurons. . This would substantially increase the quality of the AI ​​model.

“Of course, in addition to the technical requirements, there needs to be a community setting focused on making life easier for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Still, in my personal opinion, after five years, I think we will still see technologies focused on improving physical function, and the focus on people affected by brain diseases in this field will only come later,” says Maskeliūnas.

According to master’s student Komolovaitė, a clinical examination with the help of colleagues in the medical field is necessary, so this stage of the process would take a long time: “If we want to use this test as a medical tool, a clinical examination is also needed. a certification process.

About this news about AI research and Alzheimer’s disease

Author: Aldona Tuur
Contact: Aldona Tuur – KTU
Image: The image is in the public domain.

original research: The findings will be presented at Life

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