Testing for early dementia
Less than 15 minutes is all it takes to complete a written test that could uncover early signs of Alzheimer’s or other causes of dementia. It’s called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination or SAGE test and consists of 22 questions that evaluate the following areas:
- Orientation (month, date, year)
- Visual and spatial awareness
- Problem solving
Sample questions include:
- What is today’s date?
- Do you have more difficulties doing everyday activities due to thinking problems?
- How are a watch and a ruler similar?
- Draw a large face of a clock and place in the numbers
- Have you finished?
Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center enlisted 1047 people over the age of 50 to take the SAGE test; 28% were identified with cognitive impairment. Dr. Douglas Scharre, who heads the Memory Disorders Research Center at Ohio State, helped develop the test. In a press release, he said that doctors often don’t recognize subtle cognitive problems during routine office visits and that people who take the test at home should share the results with their doctors because it can provide important baseline information. If you miss six or more points, you should probably have further testing. “If we catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test,” Scharre said. “We can give them the test periodically and, the moment we notice any changes in their cognitive abilities, we can intervene much more rapidly,”
Dr. Scharre says treatment for Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia are more effective when they’re started in the earliest stages. Unfortunately, most people wait three to four years after symptoms first appear before seeking treatment. Another reason why it’s important to identify possible symptoms early on is because cognitive or memory issues don’t always mean someone has dementia. There are other causes of dementia and some are reversible.
Reversible causes of dementia
- Dehydration or malnutrition
- Alcohol abuse
- Vitamin deficiency
- Medication complications
- Metabolic imbalance
An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and those numbers are expected to almost triple by 2050. “Hopefully, this test will help change those situations,” says Dr. Scharre. “We are finding better treatments, and we know that patients do much better if they start the treatments sooner than later.”