Researchers have discovered a new way to diagnose dementia, one that could lead to an automated online diagnosis process.
Currently those concerned about memory issues may go through a battery of cognitive tests. Those tests can include identifying images on a card, reciting a list of random items that are spoken aloud and the famous “clock test,” which requires one to draw a clock set at a specific time. These tests are typically done in person, in a clinician’s office.
Researchers from Boston University have developed an automated tool that can detect not only dementia but mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with impressive accuracy. Such a model could offer great benefits, as early detection is key to being able to access early interventions and get people enrolled in clinical trials. Online testing access would be a key benefit in remote areas.
The computational model uses audio recordings of neuropsychological tests to detect cognitive impairment. The model focuses on the content of what is said versus how words are spoken, researchers said. Researchers discovered that the Boston Naming Test, in which individuals are asked to label a picture using a single word, is the most useful for an accurate dementia diagnosis.
It just so happens that Georgia Tech is down the street from me, and they have created a new testing tool called the ClockMe system that can test for dementia, and can potentially be used at home. The new system is based upon the more traditional “draw a clock at a specific time” test that is normally done with pen and paper. The new test is done with a stylus on a tablet or computer screen, allowing the results to be sent to a doctor who can study them. The doctor can even replay the actual drawing session, to see how long the patient took to draw the clock and the steps they took to complete it.
I wrote before about my mom taking the clock test when she was sick this summer. If Dad ever took the test, I never knew about it. I was surprised at how telling the simple test is when it comes to diagnosing the level of cognitive function in a person.
As I’ve also mentioned before, Dad hated going to the doctor, as a lot people do. If this test can be developed so that it could be done at home, perhaps by a home health care agency or a private nurse, I believe that would encourage more people to take the test. And as baby boomers, who are more comfortable with technology, age and have to grapple with declining cognitive function, they could whip out their tablet computer and take the test on their own, and submit it to their doctor for further investigation.
Of course, there will be a segment of the population that chooses to be in denial or simply do not want to know the truth, and no test, regardless of its ease of use, will convince them to get screened. But I hope this new technology can aid in an earlier diagnosis of dementia, as time becomes so precious once that diagnosis is made.