Use of mobile phone games to assess cognitive decline

Researchers from University of Kent shown that mobile phone games could be used as new tool for identifying early signs of cognitive decline and thus identify a possibility of developing dementia.

Investigating the link between patterns of tap, swipe and rotational gestures during mobile game play and the users’ cognitive performance, the research shows that the speed, length and intensity of these motions correlates with brain function. In particular, the performance of these gestures reveals key information about players’ visual search abilities, mental flexibility and inhibition of their responses. They all offer clues about the individuals’ overall brain health.

The results of the study, ‘Exploring the Touch and Motion Features in Game-Based Cognitive Assessments’, will be presented at ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp). 21 participants were included in this study. All participants had standard paper-based cognitive assessment tests, followed by 10-minute sessions of playing Tetris, Candy Crush Saga and Fruit Ninja over two separate periods, two weeks apart.

Using the sensors built into the mobile phones to collect data, the team showed how users interacted with the games and illustrated a clear link between the subjects’ touch gestures, or taps and swipes, their rotational gestures and their levels of cognitive performance. The study revealed the participants’ ability to perform visuo-spatial and visual search tasks, as well as testing their memory, mental flexibility and attention span.

The research team concluded that off-the-shelf, popular mobile games can provide an effective measure of brain function to spot changes in motor abilities which are commonly seen in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive-disorder. Early detection of the signs of cognitive decline is crucial to effective treatment and prevention, as well as identification of individuals at risk of brain disease.