Computers are able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease faster and more accurately than clinicians, according to researchers.

A study published in the journal Brain, using brain scans, computers can identify the characteristic damage of Alzheimer’s’ disease with as much as 96% accuracy, compared to 85% accuracy using current methods – a combination of scans, blood tests and interviews carried out by trained clinicians.

The researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London said the findings might help earlier diagnosis for patients, increasing treatment options.

Prof Richard Frackowiak, whose team developed the new diagnostic method using computers, said: “The advantage of using computers is that they prove cheaper, faster and more accurate than the current method of diagnosis. The new method makes an objective diagnosis without the need for human intervention. This will be particularly attractive for areas of the world where there is a shortage of trained clinicians and when a standardised reliable diagnosis is needed, for example in drug trials.”

The method works by teaching a standard computer the differences between brain scans from patients with proven Alzheimer’s disease and people with no signs of the disease at all. The two conditions can be distinguished with a high degree of accuracy on a single clinical MRI scan. The researchers also found computers could distinguish Alzheimer’s better than clinicians from a similar disease called fronto-temporal dementia.

The researchers said it could be particularly useful for centres where facilities for extensive diagnostic workup are unavailable or to reassure the elderly well with mild memory problems that they are not suffering from early Alzheimer’s.

Professor Frackowiak added: “"The next step is to see whether we can use the technique to reliably track progression of the disease in a patient. This could prove a powerful and non-invasive tool for screening the efficacy of new drug treatments speedily, without a need for large costly clinical trials."

According to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, there more than 700,000 people currently living in the UK with dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form.