Researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, say the first signs of age-related cognitive problems, or a degenerative condition like Alzheimer's, might be detectable using software that monitors telltale variations in an individual's typing patterns, reports New Scientist.
Lisa Vizer and colleagues from UMBC say that warnings of a possible cognitive dysfunction could improve diagnosis and treatments in time to minimize or delay serious impairment.
The researchers knew that an individual's typing rhythm is distinctive and reasonably stable over time, but that it can change when we are under temporary stress.
They wanted to determine if the mental stress of a cognitive or physical condition would also be detectable. So they hired 24 volunteers with an average of 12 years' experience of typing.
After having them perform a number of keyboard exercises, such as writing emails on any topic they liked, they undertook either mental mathematics tasks to stress them cognitively, or intense physical exercise to stress them physically.
Subjects then retook the keyboard tests and their performances were compared by looking at factors such as how long each keystroke took, word lengths and vocabulary used.
The researchers found that that cognitive stress led to more changes in keystroke characteristics, and physical stress more linguistic ones.
Vizer says that if the monitoring software could detect a typing pattern, which indicates deterioration over a long period, it may suggest to the user to consider seeing a doctor.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.