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The eyes have it: using eye-tracking tech to understand mild cognitive impairment

Eye-tracking technology may help to make the preferences of people who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) known.

In a new study, researchers from Flinders University recruited older people at outpatient memory clinics, including caregivers, to investigate the ways older people with and without MCI process information.

To do so, they used eye-tracking technology, which measures eye position and movement along with pupil size to detect zones in which a person has a particular interest at a specific time.

The materials participants were asked to read mirrored the types of official forms given to aged care residents when assessing quality of care and quality of life outcomes.

Eye-tracking technology was used to map how each person focused as they read. Researchers looked at the relationships between cognitive capacity, task complexity and the tendency for participants to overlook or ignore one or more of the attributes presented (a tactic called attribute non-attendance or ANA).

ANA remained relatively low for participants with good cognition regardless of task complexity, while it increased notably in participants exhibiting MCI.

Lead researcher Kaiying Wang said the study helped identify those who needed more support in formulating their decisions.

The researchers said estimates indicate 10–20 per cent of older people in developed countries have mild cognitive impairment (MCI), with that figure set to rise in coming decades.

Caring Futures Institute researcher Professor Julie Ratcliffe, from Flinders University, said: “This new eye tracking technology will help us to find new ways to drive the inclusivity of older people with cognitive impairment and dementia in these important assessments.

“It is very important that older people’s preferences about quality of care and quality of life are used to inform economic evaluation of policy and practice in health and aged care.”

Ratcliffe and her team said they are working with older people to develop new quality indicators.

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