Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have created a tool that allows people to screen themselves for early signs of dementia.
The home-based computer software is patterned after the paper-and-pencil Clock Drawing Test, one of the most commonly used screening exams for cognitive impairment, according to the Georgia Tech researchers.
The ClockMe System helps identify early signs of impairment, while allowing clinicians to quickly analyze the test results and gain insight into the patient’s thought processes, said project leader Ellen Yi-Luen Do, Ph.D.
The test is divided into two components: The ClockReader Application and the ClockAnalyzer Application.
ClockReader, which is the actual test, is taken with a stylus and computer or tablet. The person is instructed to draw a clock with numbers and the correct minute and hour hands in a specific amount of time.
Once completed, the sketch is emailed to a clinician, who uses the ClockAnalyzer to score the test. The software checks for 13 traits, including the correct placement of numbers and hands without extra markings. People with cognitive impairment frequently draw clocks with missing or extra numbers, the researchers note, adding that digits are sometimes drawn outside of the clock or the time is often incorrect.
In addition to scoring the test automatically, ClockAnalyzer records how long it took to complete the test and the time between each stroke. The software also replays the drawing in real time, allowing a clinician to watch the drawing being created to observe any abnormality.
“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,” said Do, a professor in Georgia Tech’s Colleges of Computing and Architecture.
“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.”
Because the tests are saved electronically, the drawings can be compared over time to see if the person’s cognitive ability changes over time. Do said her research found that traditional tests are often filed in a folder and are rarely used for future comparison.
ClockMe was initially tested at the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Atlanta, where it’s currently being used in addition to the traditional paper-and-pencil test. Despite a lack of computer literacy, all of the elderly patients who used the software during the study said they had no problems with the pen-based, computer technology, the researchers noted.
The research was published in the Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments.
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology