Saturday science subject: FreeCell vs. Alzheimer's

A new study conducted by researchers at the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology suggests that regular games of Solitaire—FreeCell, in particular—could be a key to monitoring elderly patients for early signs of Alzheimer's disease. According to the researchers, current methods of looking out for "mild cognitive impairment" that include standard memory tests and brain imaging fail to provide conclusive results. The researchers believe FreeCell, a game they found to be popular amongst elderly people, may prove more helpful:
Nine senior citizens were chosen for a preliminary 3-week study. "They usually played 30-50 games a week and one subject played 660 games in 3 weeks," says [researcher Holly Jimison]. A computer algorithm judged the easiest way of completing each game, recalculating it after every card move, so the researchers could calculate the efficiency of each player.

The study results, presented at the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders from 15 to 20 July in Madrid, Spain, showed that the three players who had already been diagnosed with [mild cognitive impairment] were less efficient than healthy players, and also showed less day-to-day consistency. However, three weeks was too short to spot any actual decline in game-playing efficiency.

The researchers plan to conduct a broader study with 300 volunteers before drawing any final conclusions. If they turn out to be right, however, regular games of Solitaire could become a better approach than current tests, which are conducted irregularly and may be skewed if a patient is having a bad day.
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