Seniors and smartphones: Predicting memory loss and more

Study tapping the growing popularity of cellphones among seniors

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – Recent research suggests that stress, lack of sleep, or chronic pain may increase our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as we age.  

Now, a new study is tapping the growing popularity of cellphones among seniors to measure cognitive decline and help them take steps to prevent it. 

Inez Vanable makes it a point to always try new things. At 90, she wants to stay sharp. 

“My very dear friend, who is about 10 years younger than I am, developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. We were such good friends, and then she didn’t know me anymore," Vanable told Ivanhoe.

Researchers sent Vanable and 500 seniors home with smartphones to advance brain science. 

“They take very brief tests of mental function multiple times a day,” said Dr. Richard Lipton, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Five times a day, the phone sends them a notification to ask them how they feel right at that moment. 

"It also brought to my attention the fact that I need to get more sleep.  I thought six was enough. They said eight hours better," Vanable said.

The survey also quizzes participants about their level of stress and chronic pain, which are factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers will take an average of the results to get a more accurate measure of very subtle signs of disease.

“If we identify people at high risk for developing dementia in the future, that creates a window of opportunity to intervene,” Lipton said.

Researchers said by engaging in activities that reduce pain and lower stress, seniors may be able to delay cognitive decline. 

Lipton said because drugs to treat Alzheimer’s have fallen flat for the most part, prevention measures and information for those at risk is especially important.