Cognitive tests that can predict how bad colds will be in the future
Daily brain tests can show how ready your immune system is to fight a viral infection in the future.
A study by researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) found that poor immune system function tends to go hand in hand with periods of cognitive fluctuation.
A research team from the University of Michigan, Duke University School of Medicine and the University of Virginia says that when a person’s cognitive function begins to fluctuate, they are likely to become more susceptible to infection and experience more symptoms caused by respiratory viruses. According to findings published in the journal Scientific Reports.
For the first three days of the eight-day study, 18 participants tested their attention, reaction time, and ability to switch between numbers and symbols three times a day using a digital self-test.
On the fourth day of the study, the group was deliberately exposed to the human rhinovirus (HRV), which normally causes the common cold.
During the remaining days, the participants lavaged their noses to measure the presence and size of shedding viral cells.
Volunteers were also asked to rate their experience with eight symptoms, including chills, cough, headache, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and fatigue.
The team concluded that those who shed the most viruses and had the worst symptoms tended to show fluctuating cognitive performance in the days leading up to illness.
“At first, we didn’t find a significant association between cognitive function and disease susceptibility because we used preliminary results,” says bioinformatics researcher Yaya Chai of the University of Michigan. found that the difference in cognitive function is associated with disease, which is closely related to immunity and susceptibility.
In other words, a single test may not be enough to determine the state of a person’s immune system. However, a trend in cognitive functioning measured over several days may be a predictor of infection.
The authors of the study acknowledge that it is unlikely that most people will take a cognitive test three times a day for the rest of their lives. But their results still showed strength even when there were only five tests — as long as they started three days before infection and at least one test a day.
And in the real world, a person does not know when he will be exposed to a viral infection. This means that brain tests to predict future immune responses are likely to be performed on a semi-regular basis. But they have yet to determine how regular it is.
The current study is small and only hints at a possible link between cognitive function and a healthy immune system. Further studies in a larger number of participants are needed to verify the results.
“I hope there will be an opportunity to confirm these results in a larger, more specific study,” said Ronald Turner, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Virginia who participated in the trials.
The team is optimistic that smartphone use could eventually help identify periods of increased susceptibility to disease by tracking cognitive metrics such as typing speed and accuracy, as well as the amount of time a user spends sleeping.
In the past, scientists studying brain function and health relied on raw cognitive measures. But new research shows that the ups and downs of brain tests contain more information than any test on its own.
For example, a 19-year study found that when a person’s reaction time shows higher variance in tests, that person is more likely to fall, get neurodegenerative disorders, and die.
The authors of the current study hope that one day the public will be able to easily access and track brain tests using their smartphones.
Information about a person’s writing speed, writing accuracy, and sleep time, for example, can be combined with attention and memory tests to better predict when they are at increased risk of severe illness.
Precautions can then be taken to reduce their exposure or to test the body’s defenses.
Neuroscientist Murali Duriswami of Duke University explains: “Traditional clinical cognitive tests that look at initial results at a point in time often do not provide a true picture of brain health. Periodic home cognitive monitoring with digital self-testing platforms is the future of brain health assessment.”
The study was published in Scientific Reports.
Source: Science Alert