Can mobile technology help us to understand cognitive decline?

There are currently 800,000 people in the UK with late onset dementia. In 10 years time, there will be over 1,000,0001
As life expectancy across the world increases, the number of people with late onset dementia is also expected to rise. With such cognitive decline, numerous abilities may be affected, from social functioning to attention. But how are we assessing this cognitive decline?
Cue the Oxford Cognitive Screen (OCS): capable of separately assessing key cognitive domains in just 20 minutes. As well as producing a visual snapshot easily understood by medics, the OCS removes many cross-cultural confounds present in previous assessments.
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OCS Example
An example of a trail making task from the OCS. Participants would be required to join the stimuli following a rule. For example, join the circles smallest to largest. Please note: these are not the actual stimuli used. 
But don’t think the problem is solved just yet. For all its merits, the OCS is still plagued by the same problems that have always affected this form of pen and paper assessment. Administrators require: training, the ability to control timings and correctly analyse results.
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So, how can this be improved? Dr Mihaela Duta and Dr Nele Demeyere told the latest PsyNAppS meeting that the answer lies at the interface between psychology and technology. Mihaela and Nele are two members of the team working on the Oxford Cognitive Screen for Dementia (OCSd), a tablet based version of the OCS.
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So what are the benefits of using a tablet version of the assessment? 
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For starters, examiner input is now minimala point both Mihaela and Nele stressed as being integral to a more highly controlled assessment. This has helped improve reliability, as there are now standardised instructions shown on screen, and standardised time frames for each test. One neat little function that assists monitoring of an examiners remaining input is the audio recording taken during the assessment. Mihaela demonstrated the use of this with an example of someone’s data from the above trail making task in which they joined the circles from largest to smallest, as opposed to smallest to largest. Auditory recording revealed that the examiner had given the participant the rule the wrong way round, meaning the participant was actually correct, a fact that might have been missed.
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As well as checking up on examiners, the OCSd also makes their lives easier by automatically scoring all the tasks. This not only saves time, but means ambiguities in scoring are consistently tackled. 
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But the best of all? The data recorded during the tasks far surpasses that which it is was possible to collect using pen and paper. Now, not only are the final results collected, but the process. This feature means subtle impairments can be picked up on and an individual’s strategy assessed. 
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So what’s next for the OCSd? Well, it will soon be given to 4000 South African’s as part of a Harvard-led collaborative project Oxford is involved in. The project will be looking at the society effects of increasing life expectancy in South Africa. How can this be done? Mihaela say’s it’s straight forward: the technology is the same, you just have to give it new input. This allows language, as well as culturally relevant stimuli to easily be used in the tasks. It makes the OCSd globally relevant. 
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How was all of this possible? Mihaela explains that the key is real communication between collaborators. Working alongside each other is not enough: you need to integrate the expertise of each member of the team in open discussion. By apprising each other of the possibilities and limitations of the aspect of the project you understand best, you can open the door to something previously not thought possible. 
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