An easy-to-use computer test that measures the speed and accuracy of a person's ability to select animals in photographs can be a more effective tool for detecting early dementia symptoms than standard pen and paper tests, according to a new study.
A study published in Nature on Thursday shows that a visual processing test, called Integrated Cognitive Assessment, can be used as a valid and reliable tool for assessing cognitive performance. This test was developed by British company Cognetivity Inc., based in North America in Vancouver.
Authors of the Nature Study, including Cognetivity CEO Sina Habibi, point out that common tests commonly used in the screening of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia depend on language skills and user education. This means that patients who do not speak English as their first language, for example, may not work if tested in English and not in their native language. In addition, standard pen-a-paper tests typically "suffer from learning," the authors write. This means that patient scores may improve with practice and therefore may not reflect changes in their brain function.
These current paper tests include the Mini Mental State Exam, Addenbrook Cog Test, and Cognitive Assessment in Montreal. The latest test, developed by the neurologist Ziad Nasreddin in Montreal, received considerable media attention last year when allegedly handing over US President Donald Trump a perfect score. It includes a number of tasks, such as drawing lessons and naming animals.
To address the shortcomings of these conventional tests, a number of digital cognitive screening tests have emerged as potential substitutes – including Cognitive Integrated Cognitive Assessment.
"What we really hope to have developed here and believe we have evolved here is a very useful tool that can make a significant difference," said Thomas Sawyer, executive director of Cognetivity. "It is easy to manage, it is without many other problems [associated with standard screening tests], so we think it is a relatively important tool that can be used to actually help us get [an] early diagnosis. "
The test includes participants looking at a series of black-and-white photos that flash on the iPad for 100 milliseconds. Participants are asked to click on the left or right side of the screen depending on whether they see the animal image in the image.
In the Nature study, researchers asked for a test of 448 participants. Then they compared the test results of the participants with a series of standard pen and paper tests.
Dr. Habibi and Dr. Sawyer explained that their test is based on research that shows that visual processing problems may be an early sign of dementia rather than memory problems that occur later but tend to be subjective. Because the difficulty of recognizing animals in the photos varies, ranging from a bear in the middle of a photograph to a bird in the bushes, the test can be used to detect those with a very early cognitive impairment.
Dr. Habibi said his instrument is intended to be used as part of a regular medical check-up. If a computer-generated patient score lands in a red or yellow zone, physicians may ask them to re-test or send them to a memorial clinic or specialist to perform further tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to diagnose.
"Alzheimer's diagnosis is currently very, very difficult and very expensive," Dr. Habibi. By providing an easy way to screen patients, he said he hoped that people with dementia could be diagnosed much earlier.
He added that the tool can also be used to research to see how well participants react to different treatments. Following the approval of the clinical validation, which should be completed by the beginning of 2020, the company will seek Health Canada approval.