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Measuring mental capacity with a tablet

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FAU researchers are working on digitalising an established dementia test

The short cognitive performance test (SKT) is an internationally recognised test used to measure memory and attention capacity. It has been used in an almost identical form for around 30 years, mainly in the area of Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnosis. The SKT is carried out using classic paper and pencil – no longer quite up-to-date in the age of tablets and smart phones. Researchers from FAU now want to develop a digital version of the test in an interdisciplinary research project.

The SKT was developed by Hellmut Erzigkeit at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen and has established itself as one of the most widely used tests for dementia screening in the world. As the test is entertaining and only lasts 15 minutes, the SKT is highly accepted despite its complexity and test subjects often even enjoy completing it. It is made up of nine sub-tests which all have a time limit. The test subjects must carry out tasks such as naming and recognising objects or reading and ordering numbers. The points calculated in the sub-tests are converted into standard values under consideration of age and level of intelligence. The test is distributed by the Erlangen-based company Geromed GmbH. However, whilst its employees have a great deal of experience with the test, they lack the scientific opportunities which are required for digitalisation.

This is a case for experts, such as those carrying out research at FAU at Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger’s Pattern Recognition Lab. Together with Prof. Dr. Mark Stemmler from the Department for Psychological Diagnostics, the scientists are currently working on a digital version based on two tablet PCs. The patient is given one tablet PC and the doctor uses the other. Each of the patient’s interactions with the tablet are automatically shown on the doctor’s tablet, delivering information about which content the test subject has completed at which point in time. In the future, new forms of technology such as speech recognition and eye tracking will also be integrated into the tablet software.

A digital version (eSKT) would have crucial advantages in every-day clinical practice: The data which is collected can easily be saved in a digital patient file. ‘We want to establish the digital SKT as a routine examination in hospitals for patients over the age of 65,’ explains Prof. Stemmler. ‘Naturally, it is an advantage that tablets can be held and used lying down in bed. This is a huge step forward.’ However, before the digital version is fit for the market, a wide range of data must be collected: How do test subject use a tablet? Are the result profiles of the same test subjects in individual sub-tests and in the overall result different than in the classic SKT? The working group led by Prof. Dr. Kornhuber, head of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen will investigate this. The scientists are still looking for participants. Requirements: Test subjects must be aged over 65 and must not suffer from any known memory and attention disorder (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s). If you are interested, you can register at andreas.erzigkeit@uk-erlangen.de.

Further information for the press:

Prof. Dr. Mark Stemmler
Phone: +49 9131 8564019 (secretary’s office)

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