Diagnosing neurological conditions with sketching


For many years, researchers have been using sketches drawn by patients to diagnose dementia and other mental diseases. In the late 1970s, doctors found that drawing a clock face utilized a wide range of cognitive processes, and as such, was a good indicator of a patient’s mental health. Almost all Alzheimer’s patients are now initially screened with this technique. However, there are major limitations to the technique: doctors must eyeball sketches to interpret any meaning, and information about how the patient created the drawing is lost. I created a sketching application to aid doctors in better diagnosing patients through their drawings. For this work, I won the 2006 Licklider UROP Prize.

Using a digital pen, the app records and analyzes a patient’s pen strokes. Symbols (i.e. hands, circles, numbers) in the drawing are automatically recognized and categorized. Doctors can then replay the sketch as a movie and examine stroke nuances not previously visible to the naked eye. In addition, the application automatically computes statistics about relevant features.