Automatic assessment of cognitive tests for differentiating mild cognitive impairment: A proof of concept study of the digit span task

Meysam Asgari, Robert Gale, Katherine Wild, Hiroko Dodgeb, Jeffrey Kaye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Current conventional cognitive assessments are limited in their efficiency and sensitivity, often relying on a single score such as the total correct items. Typically, multiple features of response go uncaptured. Objectives: We aim to explore a new set of automatically derived features from the Digit Span (DS) task that address some of the drawbacks in the conventional scoring and are also useful for distinguishing subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) from those with intact cognition. Methods: Audio-recordings of the DS tests administered to 85 subjects (22 MCI and 63 healthy controls, mean age 90.2 years) were transcribed using an Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system. Next, five correctness measures were generated from Levenshtein distance analysis of responses: number correct, incorrect, deleted, inserted, and substituted words compared to the test item. These per-item features were aggregated across all test items for both Forward Digit Span (FDS) and Backward Digit Span (BDS) tasks using summary statistical functions, constructing a global feature vector representing the detailed assessment of each subject’s response. A support vector machine classifier distinguished MCI from cognitively intact participants. Results: Conventional DS scores did not differentiate MCI participants from controls. The automated multi-feature DS-derived metric achieved 73% on AUC-ROC of the SVM classifier, independent of additional clinical features (77% when combined with demographic features of subjects); well above chance, 50%. Conclusion: Our analysis verifies the effectiveness of introduced measures, solely derived from the DS task, in the context of differentiating subjects with MCI from those with intact cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-666
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Alzheimer Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2020


  • Biomarkers
  • Computerized assessment
  • Digit span
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Short term memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Automatic assessment of cognitive tests for differentiating mild cognitive impairment: A proof of concept study of the digit span task'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this