Can you detect early dementia from an email? A proof of principle study of daily computer use to detect cognitive and functional decline

G. Stringer*, S. Couth, L. J.E. Brown, D. Montaldi, A. Gledson, J. Mellor, A. Sutcliffe, P. Sawyer, J. Keane, C. Bull, X. Zeng, P. Rayson, I. Leroi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To determine whether multiple computer use behaviours can distinguish between cognitively healthy older adults and those in the early stages of cognitive decline, and to investigate whether these behaviours are associated with cognitive and functional ability. Methods: Older adults with cognitive impairment (n = 20) and healthy controls (n = 24) completed assessments of cognitive and functional abilities and a series of semi-directed computer tasks. Computer use behaviours were captured passively using bespoke software. Results: The profile of computer use behaviours was significantly different in cognitively impaired compared with cognitively healthy control participants including more frequent pauses, slower typing, and a higher proportion of mouse clicks. These behaviours were significantly associated with performance on cognitive and functional assessments, in particular, those related to memory. Conclusion: Unobtrusively capturing computer use behaviours offers the potential for early detection of neurodegeneration in non-clinical settings, which could enable timely interventions to ultimately improve long-term outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)867-874
JournalInternational Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number7
Early online date9 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided
the original work is properly cited.
© 2018 The Authors. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Funding: Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council (EPSRC) under Grant EP/K015796/1.


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cognitive decline
  • Computer use
  • Dementia
  • Functional ability
  • Mild cognitive impairment


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