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Computer card game detects cognitive changes

PORTLAND, Ore. - A popular, computer-based card game is helping Oregon Health & Science University researchers monitor cognitive changes in the elderly, a new study shows.

Scientists with the OHSU Oregon Center for Aging & Technology, or ORCATECH, found that a Solitaire-like game called FreeCell, when adapted with cognitive performance assessment algorithms, may be able to distinguish between persons with memory problems and cognitively healthy seniors.

People with mild cognitive impairment are at high risk of developing dementia, which is most commonly caused by Alzheimer's disease. The discovery could help doctors plan early treatment strategies by detecting subtle cognitive changes over time in the natural setting of an elder's home.

"We discovered that we can take an existing computer game that people already have found enjoyable and extract cognitive assessment measures from it," said ORCATECH investigator Holly Jimison, Ph.D., associate professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology, OHSU School of Medicine, and the study's lead author.

The study results are being presented today during a poster session at the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders in Madrid.

In FreeCell, players are dealt 52 cards face up in eight columns, with four columns having seven cards and the others having six. The object is to move all the cards into four single-card free "cells" in four suit piles stacked from lowest to highest rank.

"It requires significant planning to play well, and planning is one measure that neuropsychologists attempt to test in clinical situations," Jimison said. "We're trying to replicate that, and we've been able to show that we can, at least in early studies with small numbers of people, show distinctions between cognitively healthy elders and those with even mild cognitive impairment."

Jimison and study co-author Misha Pavel, Ph.D., professor o
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Contact: Jonathan Modie
modiej@ohsu.edu
503-494-8231
Oregon Health & Science University
18-Jul-2006


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