October 4, 2012
New Dementia Test Assesses Elderly From The Comfort Of Home
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Researchers from Georgia Tech recently revealed that they are developing a tool that allows adults to test themselves for dementia in the comfort of their own home.
The computer software was inspired by the paper-and-pencil Clock Drawing Test, a common exam used by medical professional to test cognitive impairment. The new ClockMe dementia test system includes a ClockReader Application and a ClockAnalyzer Application.
The findings of the study were recently published in the September edition of the Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environment.
“Technology allows us to check our weight, blood-sugar levels and blood pressure, but not our own cognitive abilities,” explained project leader Ellen Yi-Luen Do, a professor at the College of Architecture and Computing at Georgia Tech, in a prepared statement.
“Our ClockMe System helps older adults identify early signs of impairment, while allowing clinicians to quickly analyze the test results and gain valuable insight into the patient´s thought processes.”
During a timed trial, test takers draw a clock with the correct time on a tablet or a computer with a stylus. Once the patient finishes the drawing, the sketch will be sent to a technician who will look at the image for different criteria. The 13 traits that the examiner looks at include the numbers on the clock, the position of the numbers and the placement of the long and short hands. Typically, people who draw the clocks with extra or missing numbers are displaying signs of cognitive impairment. Some individuals suffering from dementia also draw the digits outside of the clock or give the incorrect time.
After the drawings are submitted, the ClockAnalyzer is used to score the test and record time, including the time that it took the individual to draw each stroke. The clinician can then replay the test in real-time to look for any erratic or unusual behavior during the drawing.
The drawings are then saved electronically and can be accessed by clinicians who may want to compare the progress or regression of an individual patient.
“The traditional paper-and-pencil test is usually overseen by a technician and later scored by a clinician, who scores the test based only on the finished drawing,” explained Do.
“By looking at the sketch, the scorer is not able to decipher whether the person struggled to remember certain numbers while drawing the clock. The ClockMe system´s timing software highlights those delays.”
ClockMe was tested at the Emory Alzheimer´s Disease Center, and the elderly patients who participated in the study did not seem to have any difficulties working with the program.
“For this reason, as well as the ability to send the drawings directly to clinicians for convenient scoring, we envision ClockMe as a viable tool for home-based screening,” continued Do.
“America´s health care costs are expected to soar as baby boomers become senior citizens. If a screening tool can be used at home, unnecessary trips to clinics can be eliminated and medical expenses can be saved.”
In the future, the researchers say they hope to commercialize the project.
“If we can make this available at shopping malls, community centers, or even every clinic, we may be able to screen and detect more people who never get diagnosed until very late in the stage,” explained Do in a video clip. “And so we think it will be possible to detect early symptoms with Alzheimer´s disease and we´re excited about that.”