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A cognitive test may predict your infection risk

A cognitive test may predict your infection risk

Scientists use a web-based cognitive test to predict the risk of contracting respiratory infections
Illustration of a human brain
Representative image | Shutterstock

Prevention is always better than the cure. To that end, scientists are always looking for ways to spot illnesses early. The gains are potentially huge – early diagnosis and treatment can make all the difference in many cases.

A new study has found that measuring an individual’s alertness and reaction times through a cognitive test could help predict their risk of contracting a viral disease. Researchers at the University of Michigan, in collaboration with Duke University School of Medicine and the University of Virginia, have used a web-based cognitive assessment platform to predict the likelihood of respiratory infections.

“This is the first exposure study in humans to show that one’s cognitive performance before exposure to a respiratory virus can predict the severity of the infection,” Hero said in a statement.

The team conducted an extensive study to continuously monitor various physiological and biochemical parameters of the participants using smartwatches, including vitals such as blood pressure. The participants were then asked to take part in a cognitive test.

Participants took the NeuroCognitive Performance Test (NCPT) three times a day for three days before being exposed to the respiratory virus Rhinovirus, and their symptoms were then tracked for eight days. The results showed a link between the NCPT scores and infection susceptibility – those with a higher viral load had lower cognitive scores. The researchers also found correlations between stress levels and gene expression patterns, which impacted cognitive performance.

“The NCPT is a repeatable, automated, web-based cognitive assessment platform created to detect minute adjustments in performance across various cognitive domains,” Alfred O Hero, professor at the University of Michigan and corresponding author of the study told Happiest Health.

What is in the NCPT test

The NCPT test has four subtests that gave a total of 18 different scores out of which six scores could correlate the relation between varied immune responses and cognitive ability among individuals. The scores measured the time taken to complete a task, brain processing speed, working memory, visuospatial processing, and attention.

The primary outcome of the study was to measure the visual ability, motor functioning and thinking ability of the study participants. These were correlated with their susceptibility to infection with a respiratory virus.

The research team is optimistic that smartphone use, which tracks cognitive indicators like typing speed and accuracy as well as how much time a user spends sleeping, can someday assist predict times of increased susceptibility to sickness.

Hero further mentioned that since we all know from personal experience that stress increases our susceptibility to illness, these brain games could be similar to a noninvasive point-of-care device that could be used for continuous monitoring of an individual’s immunity levels and susceptibility to any illness.

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