Simple technology could help diagnose Alzheimer's, Georgia Tech researchers say

Technology has made life easier for many seniors, but recent developments suggest certain computer programs may also play a role in healthy aging. Researchers from Georgia Tech say they have developed an electronic test that older adults can use to help detect the early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

The program, known as ClockMe, is a variation on the commonly used test which asks older adults draw a clock set at a certain time. Seniors with cognitive problems often draw the hands set at the wrong time, add in or leave out some numbers or even draw some of them outside of the clock.

Although the standard version of the test has been an effective measure of cognitive ability, the electronic variation does something that humans scoring the tests can't do - it measures the reaction time of the test taker. The ability to measure speed gives doctors the ability to consider another symptom when looking for signs of Alzheimer's, and early detection is key to treating the disease.

"Technology allows us to check our weight, blood-sugar levels and blood pressure, but not our own cognitive abilities," said project leader Ellen Yi-Luen Do. "Our ClockMe System helps older adults identify early signs of impairment, while allowing clinicians to quickly analyze the test results and gain valuable insight into the patient's thought processes."

The creation of ClockMe comes at a time when the focus on Alzheimer's treatment and prevention is as high as ever. There are approximately 5.4 million Americans currently living with the condition, but the number is expected to increase dramatically in the coming decades. Experts estimate that as many as 15 million people could have Alzheimer's by 2030.