Longitudinal Study on Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART): Clustering Approach for Mobility and Cognitive Decline
Geriatrics (Basel). 2022 Apr 22;7(3):51. doi: 10.3390/geriatrics7030051.
The Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) is a computer-based go/no-go task to measure neurocognitive function in older adults. However, simplified average features of this complex dataset lead to loss of primary information and fail to express associations between test performance and clinically meaningful outcomes. Here, we combine a novel method to visualise individual trial (raw) information obtained from the SART test in a large population-based study of ageing in Ireland and an automatic clustering technique. We employed a thresholding method, based on the individual trial number of mistakes, to identify poorer SART performances and a fuzzy clusters algorithm to partition the dataset into 3 subgroups, based on the evolution of SART performance after 4 years. Raw SART data were available for 3468 participants aged 50 years and over at baseline. The previously reported SART visualisation-derived feature 'bad performance', indicating the number of SART trials with at least 4 mistakes, and its evolution over time, combined with the fuzzy c-mean (FCM) algorithm, individuated 3 clusters corresponding to 3 degrees of physiological dysregulation. The biggest cluster (94% of the cohort) was constituted by healthy participants, a smaller cluster (5% of the cohort) by participants who showed improvement in cognitive and psychological status, and the smallest cluster (1% of the cohort) by participants whose mobility and cognitive functions dramatically declined after 4 years. We were able to identify in a cohort of relatively high-functioning community-dwelling adults a very small group of participants who showed clinically significant decline. The selected smallest subset manifested not only mobility deterioration, but also cognitive decline, the latter being usually hard to detect in population-based studies. The employed techniques could identify at-risk participants with more specificity than current methods, and help clinicians better identify and manage the small proportion of community-dwelling older adults who are at significant risk of functional decline and loss of independence.