New App Can Detect Dementia in Less Than 30 Minutes

The NIH Toolbox V3 app can assess cognitive, motor, sensory, and emotional function in people three to 85 years old faster than previous testing methods.

For people wondering if their occasional forgetfulness is a sign of dementia or another neurological condition, taking a quick cognitive assessment at a routine doctor’s office visit could deliver the answers they need. Moreover, rapid and accurate screening for neurological disorders could also save time for healthcare providers already strapped with heavy patient loads.

Now, a new iPad app developed at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago with scientific contributions from over 250 experts across 80 institutions might be the tool that fulfills the assessment needs of both healthcare providers and their patients.

Designed for clinical and research use, the NIH Toolbox V3 iPad app can assess cognitive function, emotional states, motor function, and sensory issues using more than 50 tests. In addition, the app’s developers claim that the tests take less time than other assessments. For example, tests that typically take two to three hours to complete can be done in less than 30 minutes with the Toolbox app. Moreover, individual tests can take seven minutes or less to finish.

Healthcare providers can use the app to assess children’s cognitive abilities before entering school, a person’s level of brain fog associated with long COVID, and cognitive functioning in people with early signs of dementia. Healthcare providers can also screen for depression and anxiety, which may contribute to declining cognitive function.

Moreover, researchers can use the app to assess participants in a study or evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs or medical devices.

In a news release, NIH Toolbox product manager Julie Hook, a research associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwest University Feinberg School of Medicine, says, “Parts of the Toolbox are already being used at Northwestern to detect dementia. Northwestern researchers are also working to develop a self-administered version of these tests that can be taken in the waiting room right before their visit and with the results sent straight into their electronic health record.”

The new assessment app is for the Apple iPad only and does not require a subscription to use many of its features. However, a subscription is required to record responses and to view and export assessment results. In addition, the NIH Toolbox V3 is intended for use by healthcare providers and researchers, not the general public.

The app developers estimate clinicians and researchers in 21 countries currently use the NIH Toolbox V3.