A Simple Test Tells Seniors If Their Memory Is Waning

With so few effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, seniors who may be experiencing loss of cognitive function often avoid testing for fear that they may have the dreaded disease. Yet other, more treatable problems are thought to account for 40 percent of the 44.4 million cases of dementia worldwide, and the treatments that do exist for slowing Alzheimer’s disease require early intervention.

In other words, seniors stand to gain quite a bit from an expansion of cognitive check-ups.

Douglas Scharre, an Ohio State University neurologist, has developed a cognitive test that’s cheap and easy and can be administered to large groups of people at once. It’s a 20-minute, pencil-and-paper quiz that people can take anywhere, no doctor or dreaded computer needed.

Many commonly used broad screening tests take longer, require one-on-one testing and professional scoring; at least one stems from research that’s 40 years old.

Over the past five years, Scharre and his colleagues have administered their test, called Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination, or SAGE, in senior centers and other community locations to more than 1,000 people over age 50. Four out of five people with mild cognitive issues are identified by the test, while just 5 percent of test-takers receive false positive results.

The test comes in four interchangeable forms, so it can be taken repeatedly and in almost any setting. The findings were published in January in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“What we found was that this SAGE self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing,” 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.”

The study covered orientation (date and time), language, reasoning and computation, spatial relations; problem solving and memory, all measures of dementia that goes beyond normal aging. The participants were advised to share the test results with their physicians as a point of comparison for future testing. Of 22 possible points, those who missed six or more were encouraged to follow up with a physician.

Up to 10 million Americans over age 60 suffer from mild cognitive impairment, according to the study.

Cameron Scott
Cameron Scott
Cameron received degrees in Comparative Literature from Princeton and Cornell universities. He has worked at Mother Jones, SFGate and IDG News Service and been published in California Lawyer and SF Weekly. He lives, predictably, in SF.
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