Researchers from the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) have found that older adults’ performance on reaction time tasks indicated their likelihood of developing dementia within the next four years.
The study tested 861 community living 70-90 year-olds from CHeBA’s longitudinal Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS) using computer-administered reaction time tasks and was published in the March edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
These findings highlight the potential of reaction time tasks to detect early cognitive changes associated with various types of dementia, according to lead author Dr Nicole Kochan.
“We were surprised that these brief computerised tests that take only about four minutes to complete were comparable to a lengthy two hour traditional battery of neuropsychological tests in predicting a loss in everyday function over the four year period”, explained Dr Kochan.
The simplest of the tasks - requiring participants to quickly touch the screen as soon as a coloured square appeared - was the best predictor of dementia. Individuals who had slower responses on this simple reaction time task compared to the typical performance of the group were two to three times more likely to receive a diagnosis of dementia within four years. Slower reaction time and more inconsistent or variable responses on the task represented an important risk for dementia, after accounting for other typical dementia risk factors such as age, depression, cerebrovascular risk and genetic susceptibility.
Computer-administered reaction measures have the potential to provide cost-effective, efficient and accessible screening of cognitive impairment and dementia and may be suitable for inclusion in an annual broad health check for aged persons, said Dr Kochan.
“Reaction time measures are attractive for a number of reasons. They are simple and quick to administer, allow better standardisation and may offer an excellent opportunity to identify persons at risk of dementia without the need for highly trained clinical staff.”
Computer-based reaction measures may also be applied to a broader section of the population since they do not need linguistic content, which may affect the reliability of tests for individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and those with limited education or pre-existing conditions such as dyslexia.
A full copy of the research findings can be accessed at: http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1SjCP3o67zAuSe.