In a new paper published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist, McLean Hospital’s Laura Germine, PhD, and her colleagues describe the many ways in which cognitive tests conducted with computers and smartphones might improve upon traditional “pencil-and-paper” tests. The researchers also present a critical overview of modern testing technology to help neuropsychologists understand and benefit from new methods.

Digital technology could improve cognitive testing and might change the way we understand and measure brain functioning in health and disease
Laura Germine

Germine, who is the technical director of the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry and director of the Laboratory for Brain and Cognitive Health Technology, explained that “digital neuropsychology,” or the assessment of neuropsychological function using digital devices such as smartphones, represents “a critical and potentially game-changing set of methodologies that can get at aspects of cognitive functioning that were previously inaccessible.”

In the paper, Germine and her colleagues also explain how digital tools allow researchers to test people’s neuropsychological functions in their natural environments. This is significant, she said, because “much of neuropsychological testing is getting at someone’s optimal performance, determining how well could they do if you structured everything right.” However, according to Germine, digital testing “lets you ask the question of how well they actually do in their everyday environments.” This ability to assess cognition in everyday life, she said, has long been a goal of clinicians, researchers, and computer scientists.

The paper was meant to be a primer for clinical researchers and neuropsychologists and introduce them to these new opportunities in digital neuropsychology and also hope to help software and technology developers build the right tools that solve the right problems for neuropsychologists.
Laura Germine

Building on this work, Germine and her colleagues are now engaged in a large-scale project with the National Institute of Aging for developing a nationwide infrastructure to perform neuropsychological testing with mobile devices “We’re bringing together the brightest minds and innovators to create a standard set of tools for mobile devices that will help move the needle in our understanding of brain health and how neuropsychological functioning contributes to physical and mental disorders,” said Germine.

 

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