Computer Game May Screen for Dementia
Solitaire-Like Computer Card Game Fares Well in Early Tests
July 19, 2006 -- A computer card game may help identify older adults with
mild cognitive impairment.
So say Holly Jimison, PhD, and Misha Pavel, PhD, of Oregon Health &
Science University. Jimison is an associate professor in the medical
informatics and clinical epidemiology department. Pavel is a professor of
Jimison and Pavel added a monitoring program to a solitaire-like computer
card game called FreeCell. The researchers studied nine older adults (average
age: 80 years) who had used computers before and had been frequently playing
FreeCell for three weeks.
The results were presented at the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, which
is being held this week in Madrid, Spain.
First, Jimison and Pavel gave the elders a battery of mental skills tests.
Those tests identified mild cognitive impairment in three seniors.
Next, the researchers asked the participants to play several games of
FreeCell. The monitoring program showed how effectively participants
"It requires significant planning to play well, and planning is one
measure that neuropsychologists attempt to test in clinical situations,"
Jimison says, in an Oregon Health & Science University news release.
Jimison and Pavel made the game fairly challenging. "We're trying to
keep difficulty at a level that keeps them motivated," Jimison says.
"We want to challenge them to the point where they just start having
trouble. We don't want it to be too easy or too hard."
The researchers found that the monitoring program correctly identified the
players with mild cognitive impairment. They also noticed that players with
mild cognitive impairment were more inconsistent in their performance from game
The study was small and brief, and it didn't include any computer novices.
But Jimison and Pavel see potential in the computer game.
"Our early results show that we have a promising technique for
monitoring indicators of cognitive performance and detecting mild cognitive
impairment," write the researchers. They plan to test other computer games
as ways to check a variety of thinking and memory functions, according to a
news release from the Alzheimer's Association, which is presenting the
conference in Spain.
Jimison and Pavel are also employees of Spry Learning Co., a company that
may have a commercial interest in the results of this research, according to an
Oregon Health & Science University news release.