Background: Computer use is becoming a common activity in the daily life of older individuals and declines over time in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The relationship between daily computer use (DCU) and imaging markers of neurodegeneration is unknown.
Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between average DCU and volumetric markers of neurodegeneration on brain MRI.
Methods: Cognitively intact volunteers enrolled in the Intelligent Systems for Assessing Aging Change study underwent MRI. Total in-home computer use per day was calculated using mouse movement detection and averaged over a one-month period surrounding the MRI. Spearman's rank order correlation (univariate analysis) and linear regression models (multivariate analysis) examined hippocampal, gray matter (GM), white matter hyperintensity (WMH), and ventricular cerebral spinal fluid (vCSF) volumes in relation to DCU. A voxel-based morphometry analysis identified relationships between regional GM density and DCU.
Results: Twenty-seven cognitively intact participants used their computer for 51.3 minutes per day on average. Less DCU was associated with smaller hippocampal volumes (r = 0.48, p = 0.01), but not total GM, WMH, or vCSF volumes. After adjusting for age, education, and gender, less DCU remained associated with smaller hippocampal volume (p = 0.01). Voxel-wise analysis demonstrated that less daily computer use was associated with decreased GM density in the bilateral hippocampi and temporal lobes.
Conclusions: 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. Continuous monitoring of daily computer use may detect signs of preclinical neurodegeneration in older individuals at risk for dementia.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; MRI; assessment of cognitive disorders/dementia; cognitive aging; volumetric MRI.