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Computer card game detects cognitive changes

f biomedical engineering and computer science and electrical engineering at OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering, studied nine people with an average age of 80. All were regular computer users who played the FreeCell game frequently over a six-month period. Each participant was given a cognition score based on a brief battery of tests, and three were found to have mild cognitive impairment.

To measure cognitive performance, researchers compared each user's play efficiency to a game "solver" within the program that checks card layouts throughout a game and calculates the minimal number of moves to complete it. The solver is a "dynamic algorithm that is solving the game at every moment in time, and it knows the minimal number of steps you would need to complete it," Jimison said. "We compare this 'optimal slope' to how the individual users are doing."

The FreeCell study laid the groundwork for follow-up research, funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program, or NIST ATP, examining games with "dynamic adaptability," a system that keeps games fun and challenging, but still able to simultaneously collect data. For example, scientists can program the FreeCell game to automatically adjust difficulty with each new card layout based on the user's performance on the previous game, and users also can receive hints, if they choose, along the way.

"In general, we're trying to keep people at a 75 percent win rate," said Jimison, who also serves as senior research scientist for Portland-based computer game developer and ORCATECH partner Spry Learning Co., which received the NIST ATP grant and helped adapt and test the FreeCell game. "We're trying to keep difficulty at a level that keeps them motivated. 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."

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Contact: Jonathan Modie
modiej@ohsu.edu
503-494-8231
Oregon Health & Science University
18-Jul-2006


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