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Science

Computer Use Could Help Predict Early-Stage Alzheimer's (thestack.com) 55

An anonymous reader cites an article on The Stack: Infrequent use of a computer in later life could be an early sign of reduced cognitive ability, according to research from Oregon Health and Science University. A study, which involved 27 'cognitively-healthy' adults aged 65 or older, used MRI scans to measure the volume of the hippocampus -- a small area of the brain with a key role in memory function used to pick up early biomarkers of dementia and Alzheimer's. Data was also collected on computer use among participants via mouse movement detection software. Results showed an additional hour of computer use each day was linked to a 0.025% larger hippocampal volume(PDF), thus indicating that lower computer usage could help predict cognitive decline.
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Computer Use Could Help Predict Early-Stage Alzheimer's

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  • Conundrum (Score:4, Funny)

    by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Wednesday March 23, 2016 @02:46PM (#51763163)

    I'm running Windows, so my computer has all the signs of Alzheimer's disease..... what does that say about me?

  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Wednesday March 23, 2016 @02:46PM (#51763171)

    So does cognitive decline cause low computer use or does high computer use prevent cognitive decline?

    In otherwords, should doctors be saying "go surf some ***n" to prevent dementia. Watch out for visual symptoms though.

    • I thought increased computer use would be a sign in geeks since we would just keep reading the same /. article over and over thinking it was new.

    • My mom doesn't like to use the computer anymore... and she definitely has early-onset Alzheimer's, as in she has asked the same question 3 times in the same phone conversation. So yes, the article may be confusing cause and effect.
      • Or it could just be that there are too many idiots whose brains have ossified to the point that it's not even worth arguing with [newyorker.com] - and this applies to a much larger age group than just old folks having "senior's moments."

        That is probably a good pre-indicator of future dementia.

      • by Calydor ( 739835 )

        While you have my sympathy for your mother's condition if it is Alzheimer's, it is a common thing in mothers to ask the same question over and over because they don't trust their 'little children' (aged 40 and above) to take proper care of themselves. Furthermore, there is less and less of interest for older people on the computer and internet. Games? Either dedicate your life to the game or GTFO, you aren't good enough. Movies on Netflix? Perhaps, but might as well turn on the TV. Surfing news sites? Look

    • There are a huge number of factors here that don't seem to have been filtered and which are therefore muddying the findings.

      One simple example: the factor most strongly associated with Alzheimer's is age. To quote the Alzheimer's Society: "Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's. The disease mainly affects people over 65. Above this age, a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease doubles approximately every five years. One in six people over 80 have dementia." Other forms of dementia, such as

    • In otherwords, should doctors be saying "go surf some ***n" to prevent dementia.

      I'm trying to figure out what four letter word elderly people would be surfing for that fits your pattern. Bran? Pain? Lawn (preceeded by "How to get kids off my ")? CSPAN nope that's 5 letters.

  • Study (Score:1, Troll)

    by tom229 ( 1640685 )
    The word "study" has lost all scientific credibility. It should almost always be read as "opinion" or "guess".
    • How were you marked as a Troll. This "Study" followed only 27 participants for one month. This, at best, could be used to show that their hypothesis has potential merit and requires an actual study.
      • by tom229 ( 1640685 )
        It's not a surprise. "Studies", as in those referenced on the internet or published in convenience store magazines, routinely have such poor scientific standards it's alarming. What's worse is they falsely carry the authority of real scientific investigation to reinforce all sorts of misplaced ideals and baseless myths.
  • Is that a lot in terms of hippocampal volume for humans? Were there confoudnkng factors like more computer use associated with more work or volunteer activity or communication with others? How much does an increase of 0.025% decrease the relative risk of contracting Alzheimer's? A lot lacking from the summary...
  • The geek tends to think that everyone's life revolves around the keyboard or tablet That isn't necessarily so, perhaps particularly for the elderly.
  • Yeah, sure we believe you. The thing in the computer window helps. Sure! Mice in the walls? Probably
  • by Anonymous Coward
    and her computer usage hasn't declined at all. She actually ends up spending MORE time on it since using apps like QuickBooks takes her longer to use.
  • when I'm retired and reading books on my kindle or whatever ereader a lot, does that count as computer use ?

    • by gmack ( 197796 )

      I think it's less about computer use specifically and more about keeping the brain busy. My grandfather was instructed to keep his brain busy in his later years so it's pretty much "use it or lose it"

      • I agree totally, but I'm just laughing at this article that assumes everyone must use a computer all the time. when in the mood I've spent long multi-day holidays reading and bicycling and not touching the keyboard even though I'm in IT and hack (not crack) at home on on various code projects for fun.

  • I done something like this a few years, but forgot all about it.
    • I joined an Alzheimer's support group, but I keep forgetting to go to the meetings... (That joke was a lot more funny before my mom developed Alzheimer's.)
      • Prolonged interaction with people with dementia is VERY stressful. Especially when they get to the point where they "remember" imagined wrongs even when confronted with concrete proof. Always be accompanied by a witness. I know several people who have caused grief to others, including care givers and family, over false accusations.
  • hmmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 )
    Before Google or Amazon starts tracking mouse movement and keyboard dexterity to diagnose, I would like to see a double blind study with alcohol use et al to sift out other forms of impairment.
    • Seems to me that would be easier to do if Google and Amazon were tracking mouse movements. I'm very anti-tracking, I write Android apps that are designed to prevent Google from tracking data and meta-data. But this, at least, seems like a (possibly?) valid use. A large dataset of mouse movements across the population (when combined with the other things Google tracks about us) could even verify or debunk the whole theory. I, at least, would prefer for Google to tell me I might need to see a doctor, when
      • If you read here frequently, it's possible you've developed a perception that we have a thing about how every instance of unsolicited data collection winds up being misused.

        It's not the case every time, it has just proven historically to be the way to bet.

        It would be great if the information gathering arm of the internet could be used to diagnose our ills, advise our decisions, and improve our lives. One day it might happen... someone will first need to create an algorithm that does all those things and

  • thus indicating that lower computer usage could be help predict cognitive decline.

    Does it say anything about not being able to write cromulent English?

    Anyway. Why is the link being made in this direction? It seems to me - not knowing anything about the study, I will admit - that using a computer seems more likely to cause a larger hippocampus than the other way around.

    The research results showed that an additional hour of computer use each day was linked to a 0.025% larger hippocampal volume. The scientists thus concluded that lower computer usage could be used to predict cognitive decline.

    Right, so why did they "thus conclude"? It does say:

    A causative relationship has not been ruled out

    By which from context I assume they mean the internet use causing the larger hippocampus (though of course a smaller hippocampus could also cause less frequent computer us

  • P-value of 0.01 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Wednesday March 23, 2016 @03:29PM (#51763511)

    Remember, if you run an experiment like this one a hundred times, you'll get this result once on average by pure statistical chance. The other 99 don't get published. There were a couple other things they measured (education and MMSE) that could have been interesting enough to publish, too, so knock the odds down to 1/33. Or, since they tried a couple different methods to normalize the data, odds are up to 1/20 that this study would have produced numbers this significant on a single variable by pure chance.

  • by Dins ( 2538550 ) on Wednesday March 23, 2016 @04:13PM (#51763933)

    The problem is many elderly people 65+ don't use computers to begin with. My dad is 83, and really hadn't ever even touched a computer or related technology until recently. He just never wanted to learn, and didn't want it in his life. My 79 year old mom did learn somewhat and did all the e-mail correspondence with me. Well she recently passed. I flew out to be with my dad and when I initially got there I walked past my mom's iPad on the table. I mentally figured I'd be going home with the iPad because I thought there was no way he'd want to learn it. I was wrong. Not only did he want to learn how to use it to do e-mail and do some easy searches (I installed the Google app for ease of use/explanation), but he wanted to get a smart phone too. I was stunned, but I went with him to get an iPhone.

    It's been rough going since he's gotten it, but he has friends who have smart phones and can help. He can usually figure out how to e-mail me or text me with it, and he's called me with it several times, so positive steps in the right direction. I guess since his computer use has increased nearly infinitely (from nothing to something) that bodes well for staving off Alzheimers. My point was lack of computer use among the elderly may just mean they're resistant to technology, not that they are developing Alzheimers.

  • So we're talking about maybe one gram of difference in mass? How is this considered significant and not just a measurement error?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      From what I can tell, a lot of people have zero brains, so one gram is huuuuge improvement.

  • Is it researching on Google or doing online puzzles? Or is it posting cat pics on Facebook/Instagram?

  • If that's true, then the younger generation (I call them "generation selfie") is NEVER going to get Alzheimer's!!!
  • Or maybe....

    Decreased computer use (or any other moderately intellectual endeavour) is a symptom of decreased cognitive function.

    Meaning this is the opposite of prediction.

  • Because I do IT services in a place with a lot of retirees, all of the people I work with are ongoing computer users. But when I find someone who has to use the password reset link every time they log onto a site they don't go to every day, I count that as Stage 1. Stage 2 is when they are writing their passwords down (as I instruct them! Geezer IT rules are not the same as workplace rules.) but are no longer organized enough to associate the right password with the right site.

  • Results showed an additional hour of computer use each day was linked to a 0.025% larger hippocampal volume

    Cuz if it does, then I have over a 1% bigger hippocampal volume.

  • An earlier indicator is loosing stacks on the share market.
    Inability to use the computer was one of the big signs of dementia for Dad.
    Luckily when he couldn't use the computer, he couldn't trade anymore.

    It's sad seeing a once top engineer unable to do anything,
    now he's just waiting for God.

  • an additional hour of computer use each day was linked to a 0.025% larger hippocampal volume

    My hippocampus is 0.6% larger.

  • Just because two different things are correlated to the same variable, that doesn't mean you can use one to predict the other. It *might* be so, or the two things might affect hippocampus size independently, without any causal link from one to the other.

    This is like saying that people who like ice cream tend to gain weight, and people with cancer tend to lose weight, so we can predict whether you like ice cream based on whether you have cancer or not.

  • ...and now I just need more hours in the day, so I can make my hippocampus grow more.

    (It is a causal relation, right? :-)

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