Using Big Data To Defeat Dementia

Big Data helps researchers find patterns in Alzheimer's Disease occurrence, thus pointing the way to early detection and treatment.

Big Data has made quite a splash across so many different industries and areas of life, from e-commerce to insurance rates. It should then come as no surprise that the medical field is also benefiting from the sheer power of Big Data and all of the information it offers.

Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other brain disorders don’t get as much publicity as some of the more high-profile ailments due to the inability of the sufferers to make their pleas heard. Unfortunately, the less publicity a cause like this gets, the fewer research dollars get funneled into it. Most of the time, victims of brain disorders can’t speak for themselves, and their caregivers are already stretched thin enough without having to try and muster the energy to throw themselves into a full-blown publicity crusade.

Fortunately, there’s a fighting chance now, and that’s where Big Data comes in. We’re going to take a look at how modern medicine is using Big Data using Big Data to defeat dementia.

Looking for Patterns, Searching for Clues

One of the biggest advantages of Big Data is that it offers researchers and users the opportunity to make comparisons using a large amount of information, and by doing so, track down trends, patterns, and commonality.

In general, researchers use patterns gleaned from Big Data in order to put together strategies and plans for their businesses or organizations. In the field of medicine, specifically in the area of brain disorders, researchers wade through massive amounts of patient data in order to find patterns for neurodegenerative disorders. It’s a formidable task, because it’s extremely difficult to predict or treat such disorders.

By using Big Data, specifically in the form of things like cognitive testing results, lipid levels, and MRI scans, scientists are hoping to make sense of these frustratingly mysterious conditions. After all, the possible causes are many. Could these ailments be genetic? Or perhaps environmental? Maybe it has to do with lifestyle, location, ethnicity, or even something like education or diet.

The possible causes are many, so researchers need all of the information they can get, collate it, and search for answers by ideally finding patterns. That’s the first step towards combating these conditions.

The Downside

So picture this: you have all of these medical databases, all of these patient records, all of this demographic information, all of them linked together and able to be accessed easily by researchers, scientists, and doctors. Now consider what a tricky subject patient-doctor confidentiality is.

And there you have one of the biggest challenges facing the application of Big Data to the medical research field; the legal and ethical challenges of making private, privileged information available to users that extend far beyond the primary care providers and specialist referrals.

In addition, there’s the logistical problems of this information being accessed and usable by researchers from many different countries and languages. So there’s another daunting task, another obstacle that must be negotiated.

There’s Hope

Fortunately, countries are beginning to realize just how much of drain these disorders are on resources and economies, especially as increasing amounts of the world’s population ages. Cancer, HIV-AIDs, and heart disease are still the bigger recipients of research dollars, but if Big Data can help bring these brain disorders to the forefront, then these conditions can get the attention they deserve.