Virtual Reality Games Help ID Mild Cognitive Impairment

Researchers have developed a virtual supermarket of cognitive training games that help to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Greek investigators say that although the concept of a virtual supermarket has been used in the past to help detect cognitive functions, prior iterations could detect MCI only when used in combination with standardized neuropsychological tests.

MCI is a condition that often predates Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and is characterized by memory loss and inability to execute complex activities such as financial planning.

Scientists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) and the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas/Information Technologies Institute (CERTH/ITI) now report they have developed software that allows stand-alone MCI screening via robust virtual reality game applications.

Researchers have indicated that the virtual supermarket (VSM) application displayed a correct classification rate (CCR) of 87.30 percent, achieving a level of diagnostic accuracy similar to standardized neuropsychological tests. These tests are considered the best method or gold standard for MCI screening.

Patients with MCI can live independently and not all such patients progress to AD. Therefore the global effort against cognitive disorders is focused on early detection at the MCI stage.

A large number of older adults use computerized cognitive training exercises/games as an easy and enjoyable means of exercising their brain. As such, investigators explored if these games and exercises could be incorporated into a screening process for cognitive disorders. The intent is to make the process more pleasurable, thus motivating more people to be evaluated.

Detection of MCI in the early stages allows patients to enjoy a better quality of life and remain independent for a longer time.

Researchers believe the use of the VSM as a robust screening test could have profound implications for the diagnosis and treatment of MCI. Conceptually, the technique could automated remote MCI screening.

For example, the performance of older adults playing such a game at home could be monitored and an algorithm embedded in the game could inform them when their performance suggests possible cognitive impairment.

Such a system would have the ability to screen the majority of older adults effectively, while at the same time minimizing examination costs. As computer applications increasingly become embedded in our work and social life, they could also become part of our preventive healthcare.

Source: IOS Press/EurekAlert

Elderly woman using computer photo by shutterstock.