This drawing task may help detect Alzheimer’s disease

Credit: Alena Koval / Pexels

Changes in drawing traits have been reported in people with early-stage cognitive impairments, but most studies have used a single drawing task only.

In a study from the University of Tsukuba and elsewhere, scientists found that they could classify people with normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) with much greater accuracy by combining traits extracted from five drawing tasks compared to using just one or two tasks.

Around 75% of people with dementia have not been diagnosed, and this is partly because there is a lack of accurate screening tests that can be done outside of a doctor’s office or hospital.

Recently, the quest for better screening techniques has become more important as new therapies are developed that can slow the progression of cognitive impairment.

The researchers wanted to address this lack of accurate screening tests using the automatic analysis of drawing.

In the study, the researchers used five different drawing tests that capture different aspects of cognition and are commonly used when diagnosing AD and MCI.

While these tests were being performed, 22 different drawing features—relating to pen pressure, pen posture, speed, and pauses—were automatically analyzed per test.

The researchers then compared these features with scores from seven different tests of cognitive function and used a computer-based program to see how well the drawing traits could be used to identify people with normal cognition, MCI, or AD.

They were surprised by how well the combination of drawing traits extracted from multiple tasks worked by capturing different, complementary aspects of cognitive impairments.

The three-group classification accuracy of all five tests was 75.2%, which was almost 10% better than that of any of the tests by themselves.

In addition, the majority of the drawing features that were different between the three groups had greater changes between the normal and AD subjects compared with the normal and MCI subjects—this is important because MCI is often considered an early (and less severe) form of AD.

The team says with the ever-increasing numbers of therapies targeting the early stages of cognitive impairment, screening tests are becoming more important.

The better screening will lead to earlier diagnoses, which will in turn improve patients’ quality of life.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and strawberries could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease

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The study was conducted by Professor Tetsuaki Arai et al and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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