Published on: January 13, 2014
by Sarah Knapton for The Telegraph:
A simple 15-minute test which can be taken at home can spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers claim.
The exam which can be completed online or by hand, tests language ability, reasoning, problem solving skills and memory. Results can then be shared with doctors to help spot early symptoms of cognitive issues such as early dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Around 800,000 people in Britain are currently suffering from dementia in Britain with more than a million expected by 2021. Currently Alzheimer’s is only diagnosed through in depth cognitive testing, but researchers said the simple test worked equally well.
“What we found was that this self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing,” said Dr. Douglas Scharre, who developed the test with his team at Ohio State University.
“If we catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test.
“We can give the test periodically and, the moment we notice any changes in their cognitive abilities, we can intervene much more rapidly.
“We are finding better treatments, and we know that patients do much better if they start the treatments sooner than later.”
While the test cannot diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s, it does flag up problems to doctors which they can then monitor over time.
Researchers believe it could be an effective tool for screening large numbers of people in the community.
The team visited 45 community events in the US where they asked people to take the exam. Of the 1047 over-50s who took the pen-and-paper version, 28 percent were identified with cognitive impairment.
“Often physicians may not recognize subtle cognitive deficits during routine office visits, said Dr. Scharre director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology and heads the Memory Disorders Research Center at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.
“The test can also be taken at home by patients, who can then share the results with their physicians to help spot early symptoms of cognitive issues such as early dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
“The pen-and-paper format allows it to be given in almost any setting, doesn’t require any staff time to administer or to set up a computer, and makes it practical to rapidly screen large numbers of individuals in the community at the same time.”
Participants were tested on what month, date and year it was; their verbal fluency; asked to identify picture; tested on calculations and reasoning. They were also asked to draw to test spatial awareness and tested on their memory ability.
Around found that four out of five people (80 percent) with mild thinking and memory (cognitive) issues will be detected by this test, and 95 percent of people without issues will have normal SAGE scores
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: “Further research is needed to confirm whether the test would be suitable to assess and track changes in people’s memory and thinking skills.
“One drawback of this study is that the test was not compared with other existing cognitive tests. It’s important to note that the test is not designed to diagnose dementia, and people who are worried about their memory should seek advice from a doctor rather than attempting self-diagnosis with a test at home.
“Diagnosing the different diseases that cause dementia can be difficult in the earliest stages, which is why Alzheimer’s Research UK is supporting research to improve diagnosis methods. Years of research are needed to develop any new diagnostic test, and this means continued investment in research is crucial.”
The research was published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.
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