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2019 Alzheimer's Association Clinician Scientist Fellowship (AACSF)

Development and Validation of a Mobile Cognitive Assessment Tool

Can novel memory games identify subtle changes in brain function at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

Dawn Mechanic-Hamilton, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA - United States


Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease. Researchers are looking for ways of detecting and treating Alzheimer’s at its earliest stages, before significant memory loss and other cognitive problems arise. Part of this process involves identifying subtle, early-stage changes in brain function that cannot be detected on standard cognitive tests. Such changes could identify cognitively unimpaired people at greater than normal risk for dementia — and do so at a stage when potential measures for slowing or preventing the disease could be most effective.
Dr. Dawn Mechanic-Hamilton and colleagues are developing a novel digital tool to measure early-stage cognitive decline. This tool, called the mobile Cognitive App Performance Platform (mCAPP), consists of two digital cognitive games: a memory card game and another game to measure cognitive skills and test the speed at which brain can process information. The games have been designed to test specific cognitive functions that have been identified by past studies as among the earliest types of cognitive changes in Alzheimer’s.

Research Plan

Dr. Mechanic-Hamilton and colleagues will complete the development of their mCAPP tool. The tool is designed to be (1) mobile, so it can be used in both the clinic and the home; (2) remotely administered, so clinicians can easily collect and analyze data from participant activity; and (3) engaging for the people undergoing assessment.
The researchers will administer the tool to a large group of cognitively unimpaired, older adults from the Penn Alzheimer’s Disease Center. These individuals have been undergoing yearly cognitive exams and brain scans, in order to provide data on how their cognitive health and brain structure have been changing over time.  Dr. Mechanic-Hamilton will test whether mCAPP detects early-stage brain function changes more accurately than do more traditional cognitive assessment tools. Lastly, the researchers will identify how changes in the participants’ mCAPP performance may be linked to changes observed on their brain scans.     


If successful, the results could lead to more extensive studies on the efficacy of mCAPP.  Ultimately, mCAPP could offer a cost-effective, engaging and accurate tool for identifying early changes associated with Alzheimer’s. With early detection, when we have new therapies, we will be in a better position to know who needs treatment at the earliest time point.  

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