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Research and Innovation for prevention of cognitive decline: the LETHE project

Funded by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Framework Program, the LETHE project aims to develop a personalized prediction and intervention model for early detection and reduction of risk factors causing dementia, based on Artificial Intelligence and distributed Machine Learning.

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Dementia represents the main cause of disability in elderly people and currently affects nearly 50 million individuals worldwide. As the world's population increases in age, the number of people living with dementia grows. Dementia has long been considered to be neither preventable nor treatable, but while the underlying illnesses are not curable, today we know that the disease course might be modifiable with good preventive interventions at an early time point. Recent studies have shown that an early intervention targeting several lifestyles (physical activity, cognitive engagement, sleep quality, nutrition, stress management etc.) and vascular risk factors (hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity etc.) can have positive effects on dementia onset and development.

LETHE will provide a technology-based implementation of an intervention protocol which helps to improve aspects of the mentioned targets and collect data to i) predict the individual risk and improvement and to ii) provide a very individual protocol for cognitive decline prevention.

The beating heart of the project? The brain. In fact, the choice of the name isn’t just a coincidence: Lethe, is the river of Oblivion. From Greek mythology this river takes on a symbolic value, namely the importance of memory for the human being. Memory is understood as the wealth and wisdom of the past. But also, memory connected to the concept of forgetfulness. And this is the link between Lethe and studies to contrast the onset of symptoms of cognitive decline. Prevention therefore, plays a fundamental role for the project.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) methods will use digital as well as medical data to project individual dementia risk factor development, thereby providing novel insights in the pathophysiology of the disease and the influence of different lifestyle factors.

A successful LETHE project could lead to a more personalized risk factor prevention for persons with beginning cognitive decline, thereby empowering people to an active and healthy lifestyle. Expansions of prevention trials on large scale by an automatized roll out of a multimodal intervention approach, reaching out to large populations, could save future costs on expensive traditional interventions and confer benefits for the wider society.