Background: Early detection of cognitive decline in the elderly has become of heightened importance in parallel with the recent advances in therapeutics. Computerized assessment might be uniquely suited to early detection of changes in cognition in the elderly. We present here a systematic review of the status of computer-based cognitive testing, focusing on detection of cognitive decline in the aging population.
Methods: All studies purporting to assess or detect age-related changes in cognition or early dementia/mild cognitive impairment by means of computerized testing were included. Each test battery was rated on availability of normative data, level of evidence for test validity and reliability, comprehensiveness, and usability. All published studies relevant to a particular computerized test were read by a minimum of two reviewers, who completed rating forms containing the above mentioned criteria.
Results: Of the 18 test batteries identified from the initial search, 11 were appropriate to cognitive testing in the elderly and were subjected to systematic review. Of those 11, five were either developed specifically for application with the elderly or have been used extensively with that population. Even within the computerized testing genre, great variability existed in manner of administration, ranging from fully examiner-administered to fully self-administered. All tests had at least minimal reliability and validity data, commonly reported in peer-reviewed articles. However, level of rigor of validity testing varied widely.
Conclusion: All test batteries exhibited some of the strengths of computerized cognitive testing: standardization of administration and stimulus presentation, accurate measures of response latencies, automated comparison in real time with an individual's prior performance as well as with age-related norms, and efficiencies of staffing and cost. Some, such as the Mild Cognitive Impairment Screen, adapted complicated scoring algorithms to enhance the information gathered from already existing tests. Others, such as CogState, used unique interfaces and subtests. We found that although basic indices of psychometric properties were typically addressed, sufficient variability exists that currently available computerized test batteries must be judged on a case-by-case basis.