How do we measure cognitive fatigue now?
Perhaps the biggest problem with the assessment of cognitive fatigue is coming up with a way to accurately measure it.
The current "gold" standards are not great. In some environments, the gold standard is self-report. Now, this may seem fine in that most people are trustworthy and you would hope that they would speak up if they were cognitively fatigued. And, in a lot of instances this is exactly what would happen.
But there are also a lot of instances when self report is not reliable. For instance, what about in a situation where the person "needs" to work. For instance, image that there is a medical emergency and the only doctor available is extremely fatigued. Now, they will hopefully self report fatigue in this instance - but maybe they would not. Imagine in this scenario that the patient will die if they do not operate. Then, it stands to reason that the doctor might operate in spite of fatigue to save the patients life.
But let's modify that scenario just a little. What if the patient might die if the doctor does not operate. And what if they patient might die if the doctor makes a mistake due to fatigue.
We would hope in this situation that the doctor would make the right choice and self report accurately or judge the situation to be severe enough that they should operate anyway.
However, this scenario highlights the need for our technology - we need an objective, brain based way to evaluate cognitive fatigue because the current methods for evaluating cognitive fatigue are not sufficient.
In the specific case of our HISEAS study, we will demonstrate a technology that astronauts can use to accurately self-assess their own fatigue levels. However, our technology extends beyond this mission to any place, time, or venue when accurate assessment of fatigue is needed.
Dr. Olav Krigolson is the Associate Director for the Centre for Biomedical Research, an Associate Professor in Neuroscience, and the Principle Investigator of the Theoretical and Applied Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Victoria.