Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can make a huge difference in the management of the disease, and this can be achieved by making testing procedures more easily accessible. For that reason, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers led by Ellen Yi-Luen Do have created a digital version of the Clock Drawing Test commonly used to detect cognitive impairment. The two-part evaluation does away with the paper and makes it easier for patients to get tested, besides giving doctors a more sophisticated tool for making assessments.

The ClockReader test can be taken with a stylus and desktop computer or tablet. As with the classic paper test, the participant has to draw a clock with numbers and the correct minute and hour hands, within a specific time frame. Once the drawing is finished, the participant emails the test to the doctor who will use the paired ClockAnalyzer software to score the test. The scoring is based on common mistakes that people with cognitive impairment are likely to make, such missing or extra numbers, digits drawn outside the clock and incorrect time.

ClockAnalyzer will give the clinician more data to work with because it records how long the participant took to take the test and the time between each stroke – the software highlights any delays. The clinician also can replay the drawing in real time and therefore check for any abnormal behavior. These features provide a significant advantage over the traditional, paper-based test because the scorer can actually see whether the person struggled to remember certain numbers.

Additionally, as an electronic file that can quickly be accessed any time, it is easier to compare tests and study the patient’s progress or regress over time. Paper tests are often filed away and forgotten about, the Georgia Tech researchers say.

The system has been trialed at the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Atlanta and now it is being used in addition to the traditional paper-and-pencil test. During tests, the researchers found that even patients lacking computer skills had no trouble with the stylus-based, computer technology.

Another step taken towards an early diagnosis of dementia is the development of a simple eye tracking method by researchers in the UK.

The video below shows the software being used.

Source: Georgia Tech