BackgroundDaily activities have been associated with neurocognitive performance. However, much of this research has used in-person neuropsychological testing that requires participants to travel to a laboratory or clinic, which may not always be feasible and does not allow for the examination of real-time relationships between cognition and behavior. Thus, there is a need to understand the real-time relationship between activities in the real world and neurocognitive functioning to improve tracking of symptoms or disease states and aid in the early identification of neurocognitive deficits among at-risk individuals.
ObjectiveWe used a smartphone-based ecological momentary cognitive assessment (EMCA) platform to examine real-time relationships between daily activities and neurocognitive performance (executive functioning and verbal learning) in the everyday environment of middle-aged and older adults with and without HIV.
MethodsA total of 103 adults aged 50-74 years (67 persons with HIV; mean age 59 years, SD 6.4) were recruited from the University of California, San Diego HIV Neurobehavioral Research Program and the San Diego community. Participants completed our EMCA protocol for 14 days. Participants reported their current daily activities 4 times per day; following 2 of the 4 daily ecological momentary assessment (EMA) surveys, participants were administered the mobile Color-Word Interference Test (mCWIT) and mobile Verbal Learning Test (mVLT), each once per day. Activities were categorized into cognitively stimulating activities, passive leisure activities, and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). We used multilevel modeling to examine the same-survey and lagged within-person and between-person effects of each activity type on mobile cognitive performance.
ResultsOn average, participants completed 91% of the EMA surveys, 85% of the mCWIT trials, and 80% of the mVLT trials, and they reported engaging in cognitively stimulating activities on 17% of surveys, passive leisure activities on 33% of surveys, and IADLs on 20% of surveys. Adherence and activity percentages did not differ by HIV status. Within-persons, engagement in cognitively stimulating activities was associated with better mCWIT performance (β=-1.12; P=.007), whereas engagement in passive leisure activities was associated with worse mCWIT performance (β=.94; P=.005). There were no lagged associations. At the aggregate between-person level, a greater percentage of time spent in cognitively stimulating activities was associated with better mean mVLT performance (β=.07; P=.02), whereas a greater percentage of time spent in passive leisure activities was associated with worse mean mVLT performance (β=-.07; P=.01). IADLs were not associated with mCWIT or mVLT performance.
ConclusionsSmartphones present unique opportunities for assessing neurocognitive performance and behavior in middle-aged and older adults' own environment. Measurement of cognition and daily functioning outside of clinical settings may generate novel insights on the dynamic association of daily behaviors and neurocognitive performance and may add new dimensions to understanding the complexity of human behavior.