Could a pen be the key to faster dementia detection?

Written by Active Minds on Monday the 7th of September 2015.


Drawing a clock face can help diagnose dementia

New test to help diagnose dementia earlier

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have created a pen that could change the face of cognitive impairment detection forever.

Designed to work with The Clock Drawing Test that is used by doctors to detect Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, the ‘Anoto Live Pen’ features a camera that can measure ballpoint position, hesitation, and other factors that may signify the early stages of dementia in a participant.

Currently, The Clock Drawing Test works by asking patients to draw a clock from memory, draw a clock showing a certain time, or to copy or fill in details on a pre-drawn clock. The drawings are then scored for accuracy, with distortions and errors indicating the onset of cognitive impairment.

Although The Clock Drawing Test is now widely used as an accurate tool for detecting dementia, it’s not without its faults; it’s time-consuming for hard-pressed doctors and relies entirely on the subjective analysis of the doctor themselves. Doctors are also unable to detect smaller indications such as pausing and can miss other signals through human error.

The team at MIT hope that the Anoto Live Pen will go a long way towards rectifying some of these faults. By measuring ballpoint position at a rate of 80 times per second and noting even the minutest signifiers such as hesitation, the pen provides a much more accurate – and completely objective – picture of a patient’s abilities, potentially detecting signs of dementia far earlier than was previously possible. The automated system also means that doctors no longer have to spend valuable time scoring patient’s drawings.

The Anoto Live Pen is still undergoing testing but the team at MIT are optimistic about its potential, saying, “[Our models] offer the possibility of substantial improvement in detecting cognitive impairment earlier than currently possible, a development with considerable potential impact in practice.”

We look forward to seeing what this clever pen might achieve.