Objective: Observational studies on aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) typically focus on mean-level changes in cognitive performance over relatively long periods of time (years or decades). Additionally, some studies have examined how trial-level fluctuations in speeded reaction time are related to both age and AD. The aim of the current project was to describe patterns of variability across repeated days of testing as a function of AD risk in cognitively normal older adults. Method: The current project examined the performance of the Ambulatory Research in Cognition (ARC) smartphone application, a highfrequency remote cognitive assessment paradigm, that administers brief tests of episodic memory, spatial working memory, and processing speed. Bayesian mixed-effects location scale models were used to explore differences in mean cognitive performance and intraindividual variability across 28 repeated sessions over a 1-week assessment interval as function of age and genetic risk of AD, specifically the presence of at least one apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 allele. Results: Mean performance on processing speed and working memory was negatively related to age and APOE status. More importantly, e4 carriers exhibited increased session-level variability on a test of processing speed compared to noncarriers. Age and education did not consistently relate to cognitive variability, contrary to expectations. Conclusion: Preclinical AD risk, defined as possessing at least one APOE ε4 allele, is not only associated with mean-level performance differences, but also with increases in variability across repeated testing occasions particularly on a test of processing speed. Thus, cognitive variability may serve as an additional and important indicator of AD risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-80
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 20 2023


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • apolipoprotein E
  • cognition
  • measurement burst
  • variability


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