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DOI: 10.1101/2023.05.17.23290054

Disentangling visual exploration differences in cognitive impairment

Z.Jiang S. Seyedi K. L. Vickers ...+3 G. D. Clifford
Objective: Compared to individuals without cognitive impairment (CI), those with CI exhibit differences in both basic oculomotor functions and complex viewing behaviors. However, the characteristics of the differences and how those differences relate to various cognitive functions have not been widely explored. In this work, we aimed to quantify those differences and assess general cognitive impairment and specific cognitive functions. Methods: A validated passive viewing memory test with eye-tracking was administered to 348 healthy controls and CI individuals. Spatial, temporal, semantic, and other composite features were extracted from the estimated eye-gaze locations on the corresponding pictures displayed during the test. These features were then used to characterize viewing patterns, classify cognitive impairment, and estimate scores in various neuropsychological tests using machine learning. Results: Statistically significant differences in spatial, spatiotemporal, and semantic features were found between healthy controls and individuals with CI. CI group spent more time gazing at the center of the image, looked at more regions of interest (ROI), transitioned less often between ROI yet in a more unpredictable manner, and had different semantic preferences. A combination of these features achieved an area under the receiver-operator curve of 0.78 in differentiating CI individuals from controls. Statistically significant correlations were identified between actual and estimated MoCA scores and other neuropsychological tests. Conclusion: Evaluating visual exploration behaviors provided quantitative and systematic evidence of differences in CI individuals, leading to an improved approach for passive cognitive impairment screening. Significance: The proposed passive, accessible, and scalable approach could help with earlier detection and a better understanding of cognitive impairment.