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Published on: May 23, 2012
by Thomas Moore for Sky News:
A new iPad-based memory test can spot dementia in its earliest stages, when treatment can be most beneficial.
The CANTABmobile test assesses patients’ short-term memory with a series of challenges in which they have to remember symbols. Trials show that it accurately distinguishes normal age-related forgetfulness from dementia and other treatable memory problems.
Patients who receive treatment are more likely to be able to continue working and living independently. Dr John O’Loan, who has been testing the app at the Culceth healthcare surgery in Warrington, Cheshire, told Sky News that it can reassure patients. “Not everyone with memory problems has dementia,” he said.
“There are a small number of medical conditions – vitamin deficiencies or an underactive thyroid – that we check for if patients have problems with their memory.”
Doctors currently use pen-and-paper tests to screen for dementia. Patients are asked a series of questions including the date and whether they can spell “world” backwards.
But the tests can fail to pick up dementia, particularly in patients with higher academic qualifications. The iPad app is far more sensitive, even picking up mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia.
Michael Hurt, of Walsall NHS, hopes to roll out the app to all GP surgeries in the area. He said: “We might find that we get people through the system more quickly and more effectively because the screening tool is more accurate.
“And that’s better for GPs, hospital staff as well as the people receiving the test.” By the time Jennifer Bute’s dementia was diagnosed she was unable to speak properly. She is now on treatment and living independently. But she hopes the new software will allow other patients to be diagnosed earlier. “It makes such a difference because you can plan ahead, and prepare and educate family and friends,” she said.
Around 800,000 people in Britain are believed to have dementia. Only half have been formally diagnosed.
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