Study looks at how cellphones may help seniors prevent memory loss

We tell teens to put their phones away, but now researchers are telling some seniors they should use theirs more.

It's all part of a new study that taps into the growing popularity of smartphones among older Americans.

Evidence suggests managing stress and getting better sleep may help lower the risk for dementia as we age. So how can cellphones help to do that, as well?

Inez Vanable, who is 90 years old, is part of this new study. She always makes it a point to try new things, so she can stay sharp.

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

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine sent Vanable and 500 seniors home with smartphones to advance brain science.

"They take very brief tests of mental function multiple times a day," explained Dr. Richard Lipton, a neurologist and a co-principal investigator in the study.

Five times a day the phone sends them a notification asking how they feel at that moment.

Lipton said they are also looking at risk factors for cognitive decline that can be corrected, including pain, vascular disease and poor sleep. The survey quizzes participants on their pain level and how much sleep they are getting.

Vanable said being part of this study definitely has an impact.

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

Researchers will take an average of the results to these participant surveys 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 explained.

Scientists are hoping this research will also help keep older people sharp. They say by engaging in activities that reduce pain and lower stress seniors may be able to delay cognitive decline.

Right now, the current treatment of Alzheimer's and dementia may include medication with the intent to temporarily improve dementia symptoms, but there is no current cure.

Lipton adds that 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.

As are studies like this one that use smartphones to track memory loss in seniors and to also screen for risk factors.
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