Researchers believe people's performance in games like FreeCell can be used to reveal early signs of dementia.
As Holly Jimison from the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology explains, scientists are looking for ways to spot mild loss of brain function, termed 'mild cognitive impairment' (MCI), before the full-blown symptoms of Alzheimer's disease emerge. This would allow doctors to plan their treatments earlier.
That's a tricky task. MCI is poorly defined: it is not clear, for example, how much memory impairment should be considered abnormal, nor whether measured MCI will lead to Alzheimer's disease. "Standard memory tests, brain imaging and biological markers are all currently being used. There are a lot of interesting data but no solid answers," says William Jagust, a neuroscientist from the University of California, Berkeley.