Student gets award to study old minds with new games

By Ethan Nash, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture intern

Jess-DahmenPULLMAN, Wash. – A Washington State University computer science student who uses technology to understand cognitive health in the elderly has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Jessamyn B. Dahmen, from Uniontown, Wash., is one of 2,000 recipients from 16,500 applicants, according the NSF website. The award provides funding for three years and opens doors to internships and research collaborations.

Dahmen, a second year graduate student, said her work is different than the popular online brain training gaming website Lumosity, which is focused on exercising the brain.

“I am focused more on measuring cognitive health,” she said. “Eventually I would like to look at what we call ‘compensatory strategies’ – improving functionality.

“Right now I am looking at detecting diseases like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia in their early stages, rather than waiting until a disease is fully developed.”

Her interest in cognitive health started when her family began caring for her grandparents; one had Alzheimer’s and one had Parkinson’s disease.

“I witnessed the daily struggles individuals with these kinds of diseases have to deal with, and it really strengthened my resolve to use my knowledge to help people in the future,” Dahmen said.

She also developed an interest in video games at a young age and incorporates them in her research.

“I am looking into using machine learning and gaming,” she said. “If you give someone a game that is capable of assessing their mental health, they might want to play it more than, say, take a test.”

She received past funding from NSF through the Research Experience for Undergraduates at Harvey Mudd College and WSU and through an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship.