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Computer card game cracks early signs of Alzheimer's

Computer card game cracks early signs of Alzheimer’s

By Alexander Villafania
INQ7.netLast updated 00:30am (Mla time) 08/10/2006

Could it be that FreeCell, a computer card game embedded on all Windows operating systems, can detect signs of cognitive changes leading to Alzheimer’s disease?

Scientists from the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology (ORCATECH) at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon have used the computer card game FreeCell as a tool to distinguish senior citizens with memory problems.

The scientists integrated the game to some of their own cognitive assessment algorithms that are commonly used to detect early signs of dementia, usually caused by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The objective of FreeCell is to move 52 cards of a deck to four “cells” that should stack the four suits from the lowest type of card to the highest card.

The study covered nine people with an average age of 80 years old. All nine were familiar with the use of computers and played the game frequently for six months.

The ORCATECH scientists then gave each participant a series of short tests. Three of the nine were found to have mild cognitive impairment.

ORCATECH Investigator Holly Jimison and lead author of the study said in a statement ( that they used FreeCell since it is easily enjoyable and could be better used for assessing cognitive performance.

"It requires significant planning to play well, and planning is one measure that neuropsychologists attempt to test in clinical situations. 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 said.

She added that the use of FreeCell could help doctors plan early treatment for the elderly who have been detected with subtle cognitive changes.


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