Kristoffer RomeroUWindsor neuropsychologist Kristoffer Romero is developing a cognitive assessment that can be used online, making these tests more accessible to aging Canadians.

Project aims at effective online tests for aging memories

Coming up with effective online tools to test the cognitive health of aging adults is the goal of a new research project led by a UWindsor psychology professor.

Neuropsychologist Kristoffer Romero is using online testing to reach populations often left out of scientific studies. He is hoping to recruit 200 adults aged 55 or older to take an online questionnaire that asks about your concerns and attitudes toward your cognitive abilities, and tests things like memory, attention, and your ability to multi-task.

“Neuropsychological assessment is the gold standard for cognitive testing, but it’s not always available for people in Windsor and Essex County,” said Dr. Romero. “These assessments are not readily available for older adults living in rural regions and may have lower accuracy with racialized groups.”

Romero said the COVID pandemic got him and fellow psychology professor Renée Biss thinking about new ways to provide such services.

“Usually cognitive assessments like IQ tests, attention tests, and memory tests take place in person, in a nice quiet office,” Romero said. “With COVID, this came to a screeching halt. The pandemic has forced us to do things in different ways than we have done before.”

But even before the pandemic, people in Windsor and Essex County often had to travel to London or the Greater Toronto Area for neuropsychological cognitive assessments, Romero said. This is especially onerous for people with mobility issues.

“This will help address the lack of access to services here and could lead to new initiatives between UWindsor and our regional hospitals.”

The country’s population is aging. According to Statistics Canada, 18.5 per cent of the Canadian population is made up of people aged 65 and older. That percentage has been steadily increasing. In 2011, the figure stood at 14.4 per cent. In 2016, it was 16.4 per cent.

Cognitive assessments are important to keep an aging population healthier longer. The assessments can identify changes in memory that are not part of the normal aging process, and can help with early detection of disease like Alzheimer’s.

Romero said he will work with local community groups to recruit adults from racialized groups to take part in the study. He said making sure these populations are represented will help ensure the tools created are useful for a broader cross-section of Canadian society.

“They haven’t been part of the picture,” Romero said. “We want to get them into the fold and see if these tools are useful for them.”

Participants will be given a link where they can complete online tasks unsupervised. They will complete the assessment twice so the researchers can validate the results.

The project will also include a survey.

“We want to develop better clinical tools to better service a wider population, starting with our own community here in Windsor-Essex,” Romero said. “Right now, there’s a lot of people being left behind.”

The project is being funded through a $20,000 grant from the WE-Spark Health Institute, a partnership involving the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College. WE-Spark provides seed funding to local health researchers.

To learn more about the project, visit UWindsor’s Applied Neuropsychology Lab website.

—Sarah Sacheli