Can computer use help doctors predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease? Researchers of a new study think it is a real possibility.
According to researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), older adults who rarely use their computers might have a higher risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia.
For this study, the researchers headed by Lisa Silbert of the OSHU Layton Center for Aging & Alzheimer's Disease, tracked daily at-home computer use and took brain scans of 27 participants who were enrolled in the Intelligent Systems for Assessing Aging Change study. All of the participants were aged 65 and older, cognitively healthy and free of dementia.
The researchers found a link between computer use and hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that plays a huge role in memory. They reported that adults who used the computer less frequently per day tended to have smaller hippocampal volume, which can indicate an increased risk of Alzheimer's.
Adults who used the computer more frequently, on the other hand, had a reduce risk of Alzheimer's. The researchers calculated that every additional hour spent on the computer was tied to a .025 percent increase in hippocampal volume.
"Less daily computer use is associated with smaller brain volume in regions that are integral to memory function and known to be involved early with Alzheimer's pathology and conversion to dementia," the study authors wrote. "Continuous monitoring of daily computer use may detect signs of preclinical neurodegeneration in older individuals at risk for dementia."
The researchers reasoned that since using a computer can often require the utilization of several different domains in the brain, people with smaller hippocampal volumes might not be as adept at it as people with larger hippocampal volumes.
The researchers will continue to track the participants to see if those with smaller hippocampal volume will exhibit signs of cognitive decline that are not related to aging. If their findings can be confirmed, the researchers believe using computers to predict early signs of dementia can be very useful since more and more people are going online nowadays. The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that about 60 percent of older adults use the Internet.
An early version of the study's findings was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.