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“Simple” Drawing Task Offers Important Clues in Dementia Diagnosis

Dr. Swenson is part of a group of researchers that recently published an article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on the use of the Clock Drawing Test.  This study demonstrated that there is a way to get more useful information from this commonly administered, readily accessible neuropsychological test. 

The Clock Drawing Test (CDT)

To complete the Clock Drawing Test, a patient is simply instructed to draw a clock face with the hands of the clock set to a specific time.  This test is inexpensive, easy to administer, requires little time to complete and is often used in conjunction with other screening measures or longer assessments.  Clock drawing behavior has been shown to asses a wide range of cognitive abilities that can yield important clues in diagnosing various dementias. 

The Digital Clock Drawing Task (dCDT)

A member of this research group, Dr. Randy Davis of MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, developed a software program that allows analysis in real time by having the patient draw with a pen equipped with a digital camera.  By doing this, much more detailed information can be collected and analyzed.  As an example, not only can the overall completion time be analyzed but also how long it took the patient to make the first mark on the page.    

Neuropsychological Biomarkers Related to Aging

Differences in drawing characteristics were analyzed based on known groups like healthy controls, patients known to have Alzheimer’s disease, or those with vascular dementia.  The information from this study offers clues for early detection, possibly even before symptoms are obvious to the patient or family. It also may help us better identify those patients who are at less risk of dementia but who may be concerned about cognitive decline.       

Pairing “New” and “Old” Methods

In addition to earlier and more accurate identification of dementing conditions, this study underscores that some of the traditional or “old” and inexpensive neuropsychological measures continue to offer very valuable information, especially when paired with new advances in technology. 


Piers, R. J., Devlin, K. N., Ning, B., Liu, Y., Wasserman, B., Massaro, J., Lamar, M., Price, C. C., Swenson, R., Davis, R., Penney, D. L., Au, R., & Libon, D. J. (2017). Age and Graphomotor Decision Making Assessed with the Digital Clock Drawing Test: The Framingham Heart Study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 60, 1611-1620.  DOI 10.3233/JAD-170444

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