Sleep patterns may well help find early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A UMaine neuroscientist and an electrical engineer collaborated on a device able to detect brain injury.
According to the creators, it does that by measuring sleep movement patterns. Activas Diagnostics co-founder Marie Hayes said an increase in a person's respiratory rate during sleep is a marker that may be a key to identifying whether dementia is in that person's future. That increase may be functional in terms of protecting the brain during these long periods of low activity, she said.
According to a statement from the university, the product, Safe Rest, is a fitted mattress sheet with more than a dozen sensors that allow in-home sleep studies.
Hayes said a sleep disorder or deprivation may well be symptoms of larger problems.
"If your sleep is disrupted, this process may actually lead to lack of oxygen during sleep and lack of the restorative process that causes you to remember things the next day," she said.
University officials said Activas Diagnostics is a spin-off company of UMaine.
"I think the beauty of this kind of activity is that we can attract a student from multiple different majors to when they graduate to stay in Maine and get employed in a high-tech, high-paying job," Activas co-founder Ali Abedi said.
Abedi said it was a 10-year journey to get where they are today. Just last year, the company was awarded a million-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health. Activas has a staff of 10 people, four of whom are currently UMaine students.
"I kind of work on the little circuit board. I write the low-level code and kind of interface it with the mattress device itself. And make it so they can actually get the data that they then work with on the computer," said Ryan Dufour, a senior and Activas employee.
Hayes said she believes the safe sleep mattress will knock down barriers blocking early detection of some neurological diseases.
"We expect this to be a breakthrough in the sense that physicians are asking for home technology that is medical grade, FDA approved, can provide high-level information. And this is what we think this product can do," she said.