Objective: Maintaining attention underlies many aspects of cognition and becomes compromised early in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease (AD). The consistency of maintaining attention can be measured with reaction time (RT) variability. Previous work has focused on measuring such fluctuations during in-clinic testing, but recent developments in remote, smartphone-based cognitive assessments can allow one to test if these fluctuations in attention are evident in naturalistic settings and if they are sensitive to traditional clinical and cognitive markers of AD. Method: Three hundred and seventy older adults (aged 75.8 +/- 5.8 years) completed a week of remote daily testing on the Ambulatory Research in Cognition (ARC) smartphone platform and also completed clinical, genetic, and conventional in-clinic cognitive assessments. RT variability was assessed in a brief (20-40 seconds) processing speed task using two different measures of variability, the Coefficient of Variation (CoV) and the Root Mean Squared Successive Difference (RMSSD) of RTs on correct trials. Results: Symptomatic participants showed greater variability compared to cognitively normal participants. When restricted to cognitively normal participants, APOE ϵ4 carriers exhibited greater variability than noncarriers. Both CoV and RMSSD showed significant, and similar, correlations with several in-clinic cognitive composites. Finally, both RT variability measures significantly mediated the relationship between APOE ϵ4 status and several in-clinic cognition composites. Conclusions: Attentional fluctuations over 20-40 seconds assessed in daily life, are sensitive to clinical status and genetic risk for AD. RT variability appears to be an important predictor of cognitive deficits during the preclinical disease stage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-438
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number5
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • apolipoprotein e4
  • attention consistency
  • digital biomarkers
  • mobile testing
  • preclinical alzheimer disease


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