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Mobile games could help doctors detect cognitive decline earlier

Researchers suggest that consumers’ success with these games could provide clues about their brain function

Photo (c) Geber86 - Getty Images
Playing mobile games is a great way for consumers to pass time, but these games can also reveal a great deal about cognition, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Kent.

The study found that games like Fruit Ninja and Candy Crush can actually help experts predict cognitive decline in consumers before any other symptoms are visible. 

More than just a game

To determine how the games could predict consumers’ cognitive decline, the researchers had 21 people participate in the study, all of whom were healthy at the start. 

The researchers chose three games -- Fruit Ninja, Tetris, and Candy Crush -- because they require several different hand gestures and are relatively simple and well-known. They had the participants play each game in 10-minute intervals. After two weeks, the participants repeated the 10-minute game-playing sessions. 

The researchers were able to monitor and evaluate the participants’ gestures and motions while playing the games using sensors that are built into smartphones. 

While many people might consider these types of games simple and mindless, the study revealed that they require players to focus their attention and memory skills. The games also test hand-eye coordination and the ability to visually solve problems. 

The information the researchers collected was similar to the data on cognitive skills that many experts use to diagnose Alzheimer’s, dementia, schizophrenia, and stroke, among other serious conditions. The research team was pleased with these findings, as playing these popular games proved to be an effective way to highlight changes in brain activity. \

“We are very encouraged by the results of our study and have since collected data from patients who showed signs of brain damage,” said researcher Dr. Chee Siang Ang. “This additional analysis reinforced the conclusions of our original research. We’re now working to design an algorithm which can carry out automatic monitoring of individuals’ cognitive performance while playing these games.” 

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